Emotional Intelligence – Yoga For The Mind

The Isle of Play

“We do not stop playing because we are old, we grow old because we stop playing.”
~ U

Simple, mom, it’s ‘work’ when you tell me to do it, it’s ‘play’ when I want to do it.” Or maybe not so simple? I think of all the times I’ve seen children hard at work, but treating it like play; the same is true for me, and for most adults.

Play? Or Work?

Plato said, “Life must be lived as play.” In ancient Greek, the word for education is “paidiae” and the word for play is “paidia.” Perhaps they saw that at play, the mind is most energized, when its’ most active.

In our culture, it is widely accepted that for young children, play is necessary and productive – perhaps even crucial. Play is related to the development of children’s language, their social competencies and their problem-solving abilities (Athey, 1987; Rogers and Sawyer, 1988). It is their first introduction to their country’s culture, it is their first form of learning, it is their first opportunity for independence and interdependence.

The Play/I.Q. rRlationship

Unfortunately, once a child enters school, play becomes imperiled and secondary: “Finish your math problems, so you can go out and play.” Teachers and parents alike treat play as frivolous – a reward for good work and good behavior, or maybe a break from “real” work. What parents and teachers have missed is that the byproducts of play – laughter, joy, and fun – could continue to be a major factor in the process of life-long learning. What we enjoy, we will give much more of our time and energy; we will persist! And persistence is the only attribute that has been demonstrated to correlate with an improvement in I.Q. scores.

Love and Play

Play teaches us so much; perhaps best of all, it shows us how to love. I learned this lesson one summer when my son was seven.

It had rained steadily all day.

Caleb and his slightly younger cousin had exhausted every indoor toy there was. They were starting to whine: “We’re bored. We don’t have anything to do.”

I attempt a new diversion: “How about building a fort?”

“We’ve already done that.”

“Yeah, that’s for babies.”

My mother, Grandmother Leslie, my sister, Tamie, and I were ready to scream ourselves. Then miraculously the rain stopped. “Yeah! Let’s send them outside.” We were saved. It was a summer afternoon; the sun was now shining brightly, so out the boys went in their shorts.

We grownups took a collective deep breath and enjoyed the respite. Grandmother Leslie stood at the window watching the boys – I’m sure she was thinking that Tamie and I were not paying them enough attention. Suddenly, she looked aghast: “Oh, no! They’re fighting! They’re slinging mud at each other. Anabel, Tamie, go and stop them. They’ll make a mess or hurt themselves.”

Tamie and I looked at each other and smiled. Then we laughed. We were both thinking the same thing. The boys needed to let go of some of that boxed up energy. At Grandmother Leslie’s urging, we went out, but only to egg them upward and onward. “Caleb, that last mud ball missed Kory’s forehead. Try again.” Tamie’s advice to Kory had a similar ring.

Grandma was apoplectic. Before we knew it, several additional family members arrived – Grandpa Leslie and Kory’s father (Tamie’s husband) and a handful of additional nieces and nephews. What a riot. Mud was everywhere. But, did we ever have a good time! Out came the cameras. The pictures were hilarious. Only with diligence can separate family members be identified. “Is that Caleb or Kory? Must be Caleb. He’s a couple of inches taller.” Then came the hose to wash the mud off and find the boys and other family members beneath.

Would we do it again? You bet! We all had fun, and most importantly, we knew that we were building memories of love and family. For children, these memories shape identity; they help children define themselves in relation to others.

Discipline and Love?

This connection between self-definition, love, and play is a profoundly important component of raising principled children. Consider that the word “discipline” comes from the root concept of “love” – an emotion that is demonstrated from parents to their children through play. It begins with cooing adults, and patty cake, and extends to pretend “tea parties” and real “mud pies.” And it is through continued play that children teach each other and themselves to…

• Set goals – “Let’s build a fort.”
• Establish boundaries – “This edge of the curb is ‘out’.”
• Agree to cooperate – “Let’s take turns. You go first.”
• Choose a leader – “I’m the king of the mountain.”
• Make agreements – “If you don’t tell, I won’t.”
• Learn to take risks – “I double dare you.”
• Develop the roots of empathy – “Are you hurt? Are you okay?” and
• Solve the unsolvable – “We’ll use these rolled socks for a ball.”

Interface with the World

Play is the way we encounter our world most openly. At play, we are most ready to assimilate life’s lessons, its symmetries and patterns, the ethical implications of cause and effect. The ultimate purpose of play is to learn self-control and self-discipline. We must be in charge of ourselves. Play is also a microcosm of the world of work – the world of the adult.

The threads we discover through play, an interest, or even a “passing fancy/seeming passion” are often the ones that prove most fruitful when we pursue them through intense research or another discipline. For example, I remember the story about the woman who, by watching the ants in her backyard, became a published authority. Guided by chance and intuition, she discerned a pattern where all seemed random before. Her curiosity then kicked in, prompting a more orderly examination of her first observation. She was well on her way to unfolding a hypothesis.


Rollo May in his book, The Courage to Create, says creativity and innovation occur when we shift from play to work and from work to play. In other words, this strategy breaks up the deadlock or the “log jam” in the brain.

Research in “work situations” indicates the importance of a pause – to think, dream, create, and invent. At least 15% of the work day should be dedicated to pause time – social, fun, or exercise. A general rule is that workers need 5 to 10 minute breaks every one to two hours. Specifics depend on the work and the worker. The ideal break involves some form of exercise (i.e., walking, basketball, throwing horseshoes, etc.) At this point some innovative companies have instituted a designated “play period” for working on whatever project holds some fascination for the employee. Based on experience and results, play has proved itself to be beneficial both to the emotional health of the workers and the fiscal health of the company.

A Plea for Play

So, let me enter her a plea for play. Are you now playing in your life, or has it become heavy and serious? Do you sing in the car or frolic in the garden? Do you make up games that let laughter well forth and fill you with optimism?

I love the advice of George Bernard Shaw: “I want to be completely used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I celebrate life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me, but rather like a splendid torch which I hold in my hand at this moment in time and I want it to burn brightly as possible before passing it on to future generations.”

Unfortunately, usually only small children, fools, and geniuses allow themselves to play. Remember, play is the balancing factor we all need – the vine that twines together the work of the mind and that of the body. It is also the cushion between that which meets our obligations and that which satisfies our souls.

Put some “play” back into your life. Try any or all of the following:

1. Call a friend and ask them to do something spontaneously (i.e., dinner, movie, a walk, coffee and a chat, etc.)
2. Maintain a level of curiosity about “how and why” things work. (Find out about army ants, the stock market, the communication system of dolphins, how to build peak performance, etc.’).
3. At line in the grocery store, share a story with your “line neighbor;” make it a quest to discover something interesting.
4. Make a list of what was fun and fascinating for you as a child (i.e., tree houses, paper dolls, water fights, dancing).
5. What did you miss out on as a kid, but could take up now (i.e., sculpting, a musical instrument, drama, canoe construction, etc.)
6. Make a list of high energy playmates (i.e. neighborhood kid, niece, grandchild, etc.) and invite them over on a regular basis.

High Energy Change Makers

The following change makers “played into their fifties, seventies, and eighties. Look at some of their accomplishments:

  • George Frederick Handel wrote the Messiah at age 56.
  • Grandma Moses retired from crocheting because of arthritis around the age of seventy and took up painting.
  • Thomas Edison worked and produced from the time he was 12 until he reached his middle eighties.
  • Albert Schweitzer, physician, philosopher, prolific author, accomplished organist and organ builder stated that he “worked better after playing seriously.”
  • Margaret Mead, anthropologist, wrote 34 books, scores of articles, produced 10 films, and lectured constantly across the U.S. In her late sixties she said, “I expect to die, but I don’t plan to retire.”Take a journey…Plot a course from the Isle of Play, across the Bay of Love to the Point of Learning. This fanciful map is, I hope, an image you can carry with you in your daily life. Give yourself permission to play and the joy will charge your life with love and insight as you journey onward, learning all the while.

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