Play As Meditation
Who said playing with our children is easy? Just like a meditation practice, if we are honest, the call to play presently and consistently
is wracked with systematic challenges.
From the moment we become a parent, the awareness that one of our fundamental priorities should be the joy and fulfillment of our child is often persistently nestled and nagging in a core part of our consciousness. Because of the innumerable details that dictate our individual experience of parenting, as well as our unique threads of relationship to each child, our capacity to give and be there for the child might not live up to our personal ideals on a daily basis. And yet it is precisely that random current of circumstance—our panorama of day-to-day variables—that mandates the immediate environment of interaction we have with our child, no matter how earnestly we may try to control it. It is here that we can be humbled most by the nature and velocity of change, by the unpredictable weather of life, and our own energetic reservoir that shifts from hour to hour. All of these details can distract us from an ascent towards magic in the moment just as it is.
Though for the child we want to give of ourselves energetically and creatively, so often when the child makes this specific call for our attention, as parents, just playing can be difficult.
Like a meditation practice, playing becomes challenging and thwarted when we wish the moment were different— if only we could be in a place where we could give more, where the experience would reap greater results, where we could maximize on our inner ability to be transformative—instead of engaging the moment in front of us with its many imperfections. We might believe that if only we were in another space, in a better state as a person, and could bring the highest vibration to the experience, that only then our participation in play with the child would be more effective. Once the laundry list is complete, we’ll be ready and the child will have us wholly and completely. That perfect moment will make up for all the times we couldn’t play or wouldn’t play. Yet contrary to these intentions, it is the precise moment of need, request, and spontaneity of the child that holds the most authentic opportunity to give and receive in the moment. This is true for meditation as well.
We benefit most from meditation when our time is the most limited and we are shouldering the greatest amount of responsibility. To play and to meditate we want most to be wearing our best, but the reality is that the gift of connecting and receiving appears when we arrive and engage as we are.
Meditation, too, teaches us the importance of the imperfect moment. From both secular and non-secular platforms, we know of the holistic benefits of meditation. Our state of consciousness, our emotional experience, and our ability to imprint life all transform with this practice. We yearn for an opportunity to meditate because we believe that through this practice, regardless what is on our path, we will handle and balance it better. No matter what, the formidable tumult of life is then more bearable, and amid all that strikes us or falls apart, we are able to arrive at an inner peace. Through meditation, we can recognize a place less fearful, more tolerable, and we faithfully open to the ascetic richness of silence and the infinite dimension and eye of the mind. Despite our laundry list and life’s details, we can find silence and ease in the moment by itself. But like the child to us, meditation is also so infused with our deepest struggles with self-love, self-reflection, and self-fear that we want desperately to meet the meditation experience in the best of what we believe we have to offer—because then we will not disappoint.
And yet like our love for our children, meditation in our weaker moments, when we don’t have the opportunity to metaphorically puff the pillows first can be bigger than us. It can show us that the most valuable part of life, the imperfect moment, is relentless in pursuit of our attention.
Meditation demands training and sustaining our mind towards something that is beneficial, a harmonization with life. This involves developing more mental muscle. When we connect that development with play, we can use our yearning to commit more attention to our child as the first step of commitment towards a meditative practice. For the sake of time and for the sake of this love that we discover for our parenting, we can unify the two agents of centeredness and commitment to motivate our own growth, giving to the child, receiving from the heart. When we are unhappy or tired, it could be that in the depth of that exact emotional toll, we may become angry under the realization that what we really wish to give is so much more than our present circumstantial and emotional limitations allow. This can make the demand for play one in which we suffer from boredom or inability to be present.
Our muscle for this type of attentiveness can be developed, and the more time we spend in the moment with our child when we can, the easier it becomes.
The same lack of muscle and the reasoning that we use to excuse ourselves from play are from the same well that we use to excuse ourselves from meditation. Most don’t struggle to find time to make or drink their morning coffee. This is a task that depending on our resources or methods could take between 5 to 30 minutes. And yet we would struggle daily to be so consistently bound to 5 to 30 minutes of play or meditation each morning.
The first stage of building muscular strength and consistency towards play is just determining to sit with utmost focus toward the child. The child immediately finds solace and connection in this stance. There exists a moment in each day when we can sit—sit with ourselves, our breath, the mind relinquishing all responsibility and finding stillness even amidst the most expansive mess and environmental chaos. Literally, we sit on the floor, on the grass, on the child’s bed, and there is nothing else that is at our center than finding our seat with this intention to just be present.
There is a relief in this alone. To treat our full attention and presence to our children and play as if meditation, we must resolve that all else is less important in the moment and can wait. Doing this repeatedly for a mere three minutes daily gradually builds in us this awareness and capacity. Then there is a portal of newly discovered appreciation and joy within the consistency. In this moment there is a chance to forget all else and to resign to an unsung joy that nourishes as the mind releases tension and quiets.
For the contemporary parenting psyche, this is the new inspiration – knowing and believing that the moment is salient and enough, and that we are enough in whatever qualities we have to offer right there.
Both with play and meditation we have two of the most primal forms of creativity available to us. Then the face of play on a daily basis is the leap, the tickling fest, and the somersault that finds its way through our sour mood and exhaustion. It is the cry the ends in our embrace, and the organic structure erected from the dumped contents of our recycling bin that towers over the couch. It is the dramatic recitation of a cherished book, and the impromptu litany of silly rhymes. It is laying on your back on the floor at the end of the day, still immersed inside oneself in the work day's stress as your child jumps on and around you, cackling in their bliss, just because you are finally home and can now act as the bed beneath their pounce. They revel in an uproarious celebration of having you right there pinned down in play.
And play is not just what the child loves, it is also what you love, that which you are most creative and passionate about, and the child, inspired by you, will jump in and follow. As we play, the child’s expressions dance and their body language most directly tells of their feelings. In the mimicking, giggling, showing, and listening, story abounds in the middle of our daily details. There is story in the multitude of shapes that make up the architecture that holds us, in all of the organic designs found in nature, and in quiet moments laying together in stillness.
Authentic play should be unequivocally free and accessible in whatever the elements and makeup of our home. This is the justice of play; it is universal and made up of the deliberate sharing of who we are and what we enjoy most.
Play is musical, symphonic actually—imagination vibrating in and out from the very make up and materials of our environment. Vibration abounds in our attempts at making life larger and louder, sometimes harmonious, more often cacophonous. Sometimes even the unexpected and unusual collaborators of play make it the most creative, the imposition of their rules and unorthodox boundaries unpredictably offering the greatest fulfillment. To play we simply give over to the musicality and movement of our imagination. To play best, we simply chose to imagine together.
There is an emotionality to play that is far more deeply rooted and subtle in its power than we are ever formally prepared for. To be completely present and to play is the greatest level of intimacy one can arrive at with the child. To be completely present to meditation, to our breath, and to muscle out the distractions that block us from being present suspends time and solidifies love. While through certain boundaries, structures, or languages the child may not naturally connect, open, or trust, the child will always receive the person that attentively sees them.
This is arrived at largely through strong undivided eye contact that smiles and says, “I see you.” In reception of this eye contact and message, symbiosis is achieved and the child resonates, “I feel whole and alive and beautiful. I matter.” The child may actually say, “Be with me.” And we can be with them and practice how to be present more consistently.
Through meditation—when humans sit, visualize, and count their breaths—the mind is naturally soothed and both mind and body are more resilient and accepting of life’s undulating story. Through play as meditation, the child thrives and life takes on extra dimension. And so, when our child asks us to play it transacts with us on many levels. Whole presence and play is an intimacy that also asks us to love and remember ourselves.
With this knowledge, we can be soothed from the very onset of our intention because it is an intimacy that accepts us as unprepared and not perfect.