The Zen of Play — why you really need to goof off

The Zen of Play — why you really need to goof off

Most women seem to be traveling at the speed of light – almost literally flying from one thing to the next, in the midst of a continuous flow of international – no, interstellar – anxiety-inducing news. It doesn’t take a medical degree to estimate that we’d better discover a way to take a break from white knuckling it through the week.

Totally unexpectedly, five-year-old Lia led me to a new way to take a breather.

There’s something wondrous about providing your total focus to small children — creating a kind of Zen all its own. I love this, because it shapes a space for them to say and be all that is within them – and to feel fully heard and understood. A sacred trust is formed in that space – and the foundation for them to have a strong and reliable sense of identity and self-worth is strengthened. To me, this is fabulous magic.

That’s what was on my mind when I sat down at the table with Lia. What I didn’t anticipate was the additional gift that the experience would provide for me.

Lia wanted to color. Like thousands of other little girls right now, she is enthralled with the hit movie Frozen. Stories provide powerful opportunities to learn values and courage, to try on new behaviors, to imagine oneself in totally new ways — this is true for both adults and kids — and the characters in Frozen totally captivated Lia.

So on this day Lia opened up a Frozen coloring book. She chose her page and then made a quick assessment of what picture she could spare for me, landing on one with more detail than her little fingers could cope with. “You can have this one. It’s too much work,” she said, matter-of-factly and with no remorse. And so we colored. 

My page showed Elsa in a long gown, its fabric full of delicate swirls and panels. Because the dress was gathered and did not hang straight, the swirls varied in size and shape. I did my limited best to choose colors that were pleasing together, and then I began to fill in the outline, bringing it to life. Lia was busily doing the same, leaving my mind free to float, magic carpet style, here, there and everywhere, while gently focused on the softly flowing patterns in front of me. Only when Lia’s voice rang out unexpectedly, calling that it was time to move on, did I realize the calm trip I’d been on.

Zen. A peaceful, meditative place where my intuition was free to take my thoughts to wherever I needed to go. Coloring could take me to this place?

ZenDetermined to repeat this experience as needed, I went shopping for my own coloring book and markers. I debated about color-by-numbers and symmetric designs like mandalas, but realized after a couple of false starts that this created a driven quality to the experience, with a focus on completion – a loss of the chance to follow an intuitive path. My next purchases were two books of detailed outlines, the first of scenes of Paris (too demanding — I’ll never get the colors right) and the second of the natural world — full of delightfully wiggly salamanders and frogs — perfect!

We adults need, in our own unique ways, the interruption of play – to have this experience for the mind to expand in its own direction, often so different from the myriad wild goose chases of everyday life – like the rowdy game of Hide & Seek that followed this interlude of solitude —

I’d love to know what takes you to that place.  If you’re willing to share, please post your favorites on my Facebook Page for others to enjoy!


For more information, read Getting Serious about Play by JoBeth McDaniel