Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Are We Having Fun Yet?

So, here’s my latest confession: I am not good at fun. Really. I’m great at work- any kind, all kinds. I practically run toward those situations (inner or outer) that have any kind of roll-up-you-sleeves-and-get-in-there requirement. But I'm not good at fun- at hanging out without any kind of plan or agenda or meaningful conversation. I get testy when people (usually those close to me) tell me I “should just relax.” Attending a workshop years ago, I felt my anxiety rise when directed to spend an evening “just playing” with movement. (Had I been told to dance I would have been fine, but the “p” word put me off.) Recently someone sent me an email suggesting that developing hobbies would be a good way to deal with the stress of my current marital break-up. I bristled. I don’t do hobbies.

There are of course, lots of reasons for all of this, and it’s hard to separate nature from nurture in my family background. We were the poster children for the Protestant Work Ethic. To this day my parents, now in their seventies, love to put in a full day of rigorous work around the house. Once, when I was imploring my father to slow down a little, he told me he would rather wear out than rust out. When I was a child we spent our holidays camping at provincial parks in Ontario. My mother brought along a child-sized gardening kit (small, so it could be packed easily) so she could rake-up the leaves and twigs and other “debris” around the campsite. My father wasn't really happy until he’d split a cord of wood for our use and left a neat stack for the campers who came after us. They both just shook their heads at a fellow camper who built a fire with gasoline soaked twigs and proceeded to sit in his lawn chair and used the toe of his boot to gradually push the end of a whole uncut log into the flames.

You can see how my work and play wires might have gotten crossed. Along with this, my basic personality was (and remains) pretty serious. Even as a child, I liked serious questions, serious dilemmas, serious efforts. There is of course an upside to this: much of what I do for work (writing, reading, studying, group facilitation, counselling and spiritual direction etc.) is truly what I enjoy. My work, in some ways is my fun. Given my upbringing and personality, choosing work I enjoy may have been a pre-emptive (albeit largely unconscious) move to ensure I'd have some fun.

But there’s a downside to this also. If you turn everything you enjoy into work you can become good at, offer to the world and maybe even get paid for, you can end up always working. So, while lots of folks have to ask themselves what they would love to do if they could get paid for what they love to do, I need to ask: what do I enjoy that has absolutely no chance of being shaped into meaningful or income-producing work?

At this point it's a very short list. Recently my sons introduced me to the computer game Rock Band- the Beatles version (since, as they put it- the songs, like me, are “old” so I know them.) Now playing computer game drums, guitar or singing with two people you love and enjoy (one of whom has absolutely no sense of rhythm) can be a lot of fun. As I sing “Hard Day’s Night” or miss a beat on the drums for “Yellow Submarine” it’s impossible not to laugh. Fun- pure enjoyment with no other redeeming features, no prospects of being turned into meaningful-contribution-to-the-world work.

Why am I concerned with learning to have fun? Because life is too short to always be working, even if your work is enjoyable. Because the human mind, heart, body and spirit needs fun, needs some silly time if it is to truly rest, rejuvenate and regain perspective on what matters. Silliness heals. Play protects us from taking ourselves too seriously. Of course, knowing this, I am tempted to say I am working on having fun, learning how to play, and practicing silliness. Maybe I could teach a workshop on silliness!

Sigh. Old habits die hard.


  1. Oh how I can relate to this. I turned nearly everything I enjoyed into paid work during the time I was discovering who I really was underneath the original conditioning. And it is great to really enjoy your work, but there's nothing like laughing and playing and being silly to lighten up our energy! Thankfully I have a handful of people in my life that are fun and make me laugh - a couple of them until I am crying because the laughter is so BIG! Hope your learning to play more is a big success for you :)

  2. Hi Oriah,
    I'm so glad you are even thinking about fun, it signals moving on, even if in little steps. I can empathise with your characteristics, I felt, and in part still feel similar. I retired two and a half years ago, moved to Italy from the UK and thought after years of hard work it would be great to unwind and do very little, and have fun. I had no idea how long it would take me.

    I am just beginning to recognise what it means now, and boy am I going to make up for it, freely, without restraint. The one most rewarding and consistent source of fun is my cats, I have four who lived in my garden when I arrived and eventually moved in. There is always one of them doing something silly that makes me laugh and join in. Animals and children are just terrific instructors on allowing the silliness within to come out to play.

    So even though I still make lists in my head of "work" to be done and feel twinges of guilt if I have "failed" to achieve it I have let go of a lot. Italians are wonderful people to have fun with too and I am learning to throw myself into silliness and loving it.

    I hope you find the ways that work for you too, it is such a loving experience.

  3. Oriah,
    I loved this reminder and it made me think of this item I came across about two years ago that made me laugh and smile at my self (which has been huge growth for me). It's called the 12 steps for the over serious.

    1. We admitted that we were powerless over seriousness -- that our lives had become unmanageable.

    2. Came to believe that only by lightening up could we achieve a state of non-seriousness.

    3. Made a decision to turn our constant self-criticism over to our sense of humor and learn to "lovingly and wholeheartedly" laugh at ourselves.

    4. Decided to give ourselves a break once in a while, instead of constantly doing searching and fearless moral inventories of ourselves.

    5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being that our wrongs were often in our heads.

    6. Were entirely ready to accept that our characters were as good as anybody else's and possibly better than most.

    7. Quit harping on our shortcomings.

    8. Made of list of all persons we thought we had harmed and saw that they'd forgotten all the crap we'd blown out of proportion.

    9. Quit making amends for breathing air and taking up a few square feet of the planet's surface.

    10. Resigned ourselves to the fact we were going to criticize ourselves at times, but would try to stick to our guns when we knew we were right.

    11. Sought through prayer and meditation to calm down and realize we're not responsible for everything.

    12. Having experienced immense relief from these steps, we would try to carry this message to other over-serious people and to practice these principles in all of our affairs.Author unknown.

    Namaste fellow traveler!

  4. Now that made me laugh- especially #8. O

  5. How interesting! I guess opposites attract— my life plan was always to 1) find stuff that I enjoy playing at and 2) get people to pay me to do it.

    I guess I've given up on part two of the plan at this point. ;-)

  6. I loved it!! Please keep posting Oriah...

  7. Thanks for that posting Meredith. I loved it too!

  8. Hi Oriah,
    I ran across your poem The Invitation today on someone's facebook page and absolutely loved it...and now happy to find your blog as well :) I can completely relate to this topic and it was another nice morning surprise.
    Thanks for creating that encouragement.
    (and I like those 12 steps Meredith...truly life is too short to be so hard on ourselves). Best wishes.

  9. Ah, Oriah -- I think a friend of mine has beat you to it -- instead of a workshop, it is called a "playshop" -- a way to remind us to have fun and not to forget how to play. Here is a link to a video of their first playshop:

  10. Dear Oriah,

    Here's some fun for you: I went to an open mic session at a little coffee shop across town last night to see my friend Jill play her guitar and sing her love songs. It was one of the best nights I've had in a long time. I enjoyed several different acts, but the one I remember the most, the silliest of all, was of a guy who calls himself the Dingo Clown, he's from Texas, he wore an Abe top hat with carpet-like patchwork highwaters and a slicked and curled mustache taboot. And all his songs were about dogs and the adventures they have, the thoughts they have, how they see us humans, just being.

    My question to you is -- and trust me, I've considered this myself in my last year of trials and tribulations -- but I have two elderly cats that would kill me if I did, so I'm sparing their last years before I make the plunge -- Would getting a dog make you feel better? Just based on what you are going through right now, adopting a dog might be just the fun you're looking for. Cuddles, jogs, walks, greetings, slobbery kisses, and that "whatcha wanna do next mom?" twinkle in the eye.

    Also, I just wanted to express how in awe I am of The Invitation, and I'll be reading all your books very soon. A dear friend introduced me to you Tuesday evening, and you've been on my mind ever since. I'll be having Wednesday morning coffee with you via your blog from here on forward. Keep on keep on:)

    Much love, and here's to unconditional love from a furry friend,

    Portland, OR

  11. Nattie, I did consider a dog but my apartment is miniscule and the building says no pets. Also, honestly, this is the first time in my life that I have not had to look after another living creature every day- human or otherwise- and I am loving the freedom that gives me. thanks, Oriah

  12. I've just been sitting outdoors in a beautiful, green garden in England, reading again 'What We Ache For, a book that really resonated with my soul when I first discovered it.

    I've had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for over a year and have been feeling particularly useless lately and longing for my energy and creative spark to surface once more, and today, a lot of tears and pain from old wounds just spilled over.

    I've just come back into the house and now discovered your blog for the first time. This might sound strange Oriah, and I hope not heartless, yet somehow understanding and empathising with your deep and present pain and life changes, has comforted me and helped me to see that I am not alone in my hurt and that creativity is born out of woundedness not in spite of it.

    Thank you for who you are and having the courage and grace to be so real.

    Feel the love.

  13. Magdalene- doesn't sound heartless at all- sounds heart-connected. Hope you are feeling more energy soon, Oriah

  14. Thank goodness for fun! I am an artist who also believes I always need to work too much to make up on lost time... life's just too short and I'm not getting any younger. Considering I won't waste time watching television I was surprised when I tried the wii thing. Unfortunatly guitar hero becomes too much about mastering the gig to move on and I become too tense -probably has something to do with my abandonded musical practic. Mario Brothers I can laugh at... especially Mario Kart. But my all time favorite play is ping pong. Draw faces of fear on one side of the paddle and determination on the other and it becomes even crazier when you try to keep two balls going between two people (like hot potatoe)... no way to think about work!