Do you ever just play? I do not mean playing a sport, or working out, or anything that has a higher goal in mind such as getting in shape, blowing off steam, competition, or winning. I am talking about playing as a child plays. Playing just because ⎯ letting your hair down, taking off your clothes, rolling on the grass, making a snow angel, or spending hours studying ants.
Do you think you are too old to play? Too conservative? Too shy? Would you feel silly? Can you remember how great it is to feel silly? To not care about what other people think? Can you remember a time in your life when you had no clue that it was possible for anyone to judge you?
I notice how often people want to participate in something, but they feel like they must hold back. I recall a woman who called me for a consultation. She felt stagnant in her life. She was very healthy, had a large beautiful home that she shared with her husband, plenty of money, and loads of free time. While discussing other things, she stated in an off-hand way that she wished she could paint.
“Why don’t you?” I asked. “I might make a mess,” was her reply.
“Who is it that does not want you to make a mess?” She got very quiet and then choked out, “my mother.” It had been over thirty years since the last time she had been admonished to not make a mess ⎯ but it stuck, holding her back from her own creativity. As we unraveled this roadblock, she got excited at her possibilities. She had artistic desire, she had a large room that could easily be converted to her “studio” that would not even be missed, she could buy all the supplies she wanted, and she had time!
As a teenager, I often held back on doing something I wanted, as if waiting for someone to give me permission to go ahead. This feeling was so ingrained that it still surfaces in spite of my diligence to not let it rule my choices. I now know that the one restricting me is me, self-editing to keep my joy in check as my desires surface.
An example was years ago at the County Fair. A drum circle had formed and people were drumming away. I wanted to join in sooooo badly … but I held back. After all, I did not know how to drum, I was dressed too conservatively and I thought I would “look weird” drumming with this group whose overall appearance was quite colorful, with tattoos and dreadlocks sported by many. In spite of how out of place I felt, my desire to drum was high.
About then, one of the drum leaders invited anyone who desired to, to join in. I took the risk of feeling stupid, and picked up a drum. What a ball! Two hours later, I had bruised hands and an elated heart. I was so enamored with drumming that I took lessons and became part of a drum circle that lasted three years. Our group drummed on stage at the community theater and rocked a flatbed truck during the 4th of July parade. Definitely the risk of feeling silly had a huge payoff in terms of my joy.
Getting adults to drop the “adult” persona for a few hours can be tricky. After all, the game we adults play with other adults is to behave in ways that will gain trust, respect, to be the professional, or the “go to person” so that we can build our network, expand our circles of influence and become successful. However, when an adult steps out of the confines of their professional facade, a spontaneous experience will spark the creative juices, and energize the individual and often anyone around them.
Last May, I was invited to dance at an after-party celebration for the leaders and presenters of the Sun Valley Wellness Festival in Ketchum, Idaho. The first wave of people arrived, happy and riding pretty high on the success of the Festival. My dance was a surprise from the hostess of the party to lighten things up after an intense weekend. The guests were invited to send their good vibes into my veils and out into the world as I spinned. It was a wonderful opening to the party.
Then a second wave of guests arrived. Another dance was requested. By now, the mix of guests included musicians with drums and a didgeridoo. With such great talent on hand, I dropped my planned routine and recorded music. NOW I could really dance! Completely engaged in the moment with the fantastic improvised rhythms, I was in my element, fully playing!
I could sense several of the guests wanted to dance as well. They just needed permission and an invitation, just like I did that day at the county fair. I danced over to a lovely woman who I had met a few days earlier. As I gave her a come-hither look, her eyes said “Oh-no Donna, not me, don’t ask me to dance.” But, her energy was “ME ME ME, ask ME!” So, I drew her onto the dance floor with my veil. I knew that her willingness to dance in spite of her professional decorum would create the opening for others to follow.
Being willing to step out of your comfort zone and take a risk of being silly or feeling foolish takes courage. In addition, being willing to step up even when you are not ready, when you don’t know how, or when you have never done something at all ⎯ risking imperfection, is another huge step towards opening up yourself to new possibilities.
Many years ago, I realized that if there was something I felt passionate about doing then I must do it. It is not about perfecting the dance or my book or this article. It is about offering my very best to anything that matters to me. Had I waited until I had perfected my routine, I would never have performed for different groups or at the county fair. I would never had taught beginning dance or inspired others to tap into their sensual playful nature. I would not write or paint, two things that give me great pleasure.
Of course, when I see a video of my dance routine, I look for the mistakes, for the lack of extension or the dropped chin. I proofread and edit my poems and stories. I paint over something that does not feel authentic. I critique myself in order to improve. However, I pay close attention to the energy, the joy, and the playfulness that exudes from me while I am acting on my passions. This is what ultimately matters ⎯ that I am doing what I love.
Taking the risk of feeling silly or stupid or awkward or scared in order to do what enlivens and invigorates me also invites and encourages other people, by example, to take a chance to step into their passions.
Stepping up, standing up, speaking up, acting up ⎯ all have an element of risk. For me, the most difficult risks are when I wonder what other people think of me. The worthwhile risks are the ones I take when I really want to do something and my desire overrides the question, “what will people think?”
Most people are amazed to learn that I was a very shy child. I was taunted with “Four eyes!” in first grade because I wore glasses years before anyone else did. Following that was variations on “We want a pitcher, not Donna Pritchard!’’ ⎯ just one example of my complete lack of athletic skills. Middle school brought the nickname “Cheshire Cat” after the character in Alice in Wonderland who disappeared except for its smile (because I had a very large smile). By high school, I felt quite ill at ease and tended to peer out from behind long bangs that hid my face. My glasses were an additional barrier between me and the world.
One day in my sophomore year as I walked down the hall focused primarily on my shoes, I had an epiphany. I realized that I would never live the life I desired if I went about being timid and afraid. I wanted to break free. I decided in that moment to make a conscious change ⎯ to stop being shy. I started out by talking to other kids who also seemed shy or awkward. Over time, it became easier to talk to most anyone.
Stepping out of shyness, choosing to get to know people, was a major game-changer in my life. The seed of that feeling of awkwardness is still with me, and sometimes I still feel like I need permission to discover who I am. Nevertheless, years of practicing confidence has moved me through many obstacles where feeling ill at ease would have stopped me in my tracks. Today, true confidence is present with me more often than not.
I leave you with this poem about a summer’s day when I was asked to lead another dance in another setting ⎯ and my desire to play overrode my inhibition, and shyness had no place.