We all need a break sometimes. When we’re kids, breaks are given freely during playtime and nap-time. The importance of play to psychological development has received a lot attention as we watch our kids feel the pressure to achieve more and more at a younger and younger age. This pressure, though, extends to us parents, too. By understanding the importance of ritual and play to our identity, we can better recognize when we need a break and what it should look like.
The most normal and competent child encounters what seems like insurmountable problems in living. But by playing them out, in the way he chooses, he may become able to cope with them in a step‑by‑step process. He often does so in symbolic ways that are hard for even him to understand, as he is reacting to inner processes whose origin may be buried deep in his unconscious. – Bruno Bettleheim
I think Bettleheim’s assessment is as applicable to us adults as it is to our children. As technology infiltrates our lives, it is increasingly difficult for all of us to be “on vacation” or “out of touch.” Our moments are crammed full of information and activities – from compulsively checking our smart phones to over-booking our days so we don’t have any time to decompress. The net effect is a slow but sure erosion of our lives into a never-ending to-do list. We may not even know when we need a break.
What I know is that play is a necessary component to a full and fulfilling life. In fact, ritual, play, and creativity are central to the evolution of consciousness and culture.
Ritual – whether it has it’s roots in religious, cultural, or personal expression – allows us to create a symbolic container for our experience and work towards a desired outcome. Rituals allows us to mark something that holds importance to us. It provides a means of working towards a solution or resolution to something that remains unresolved in our lives. Play, on the other hand, refers to the process rather than the outcome. At it’s best, play is a pleasurable expression of our essence and that leads us in unexpected directions.
While ritual is often associated with religion and religious practice, recent research suggests that ritual may be more rational and secular that it appears. According to an article in Scientific American, “even simple rituals can be extremely effective. Rituals performed after experiencing losses – from loved ones to lotteries – do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks – like singing in public – do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. What’s more, rituals appear to benefit people who claim not to believe that rituals work. Recently, a series of investigations by psychologists have revealed intriguing new results demonstrating that rituals can have a causal impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.”
At it’s core, ritual permits us time and space to contemplate and honor meaningful connections in our life, while play takes us outside the parameters of our daily lives and into a sense of timeless creativity.
Dr. Stuart Brown from the National Institute of Play defines play as a voluntary and pleasurable act that “offers a sense of engagement, takes you out of time” and whose efforts are “more important than the outcome.”
The effects of play can be profound as it allows adults and children to express parts of themselves that don’t come out in everyday activities. Further, play creates novel alternatives to otherwise ordinary situations and trains us to have fun. Play also kick-starts our creativity and prompts us to use it in the manifestation of something external to us. This process reveals what is most important to us because we tend to innovate around what we believe is most relevant. Play and ritual are both integral to our understanding of the nature of who we are. When we need a break, turning to play and ritual are a good place to start.
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One of the main problems we run into when we create something new is that we focus on what we don’t want to see happen, so much so that we forget to get clear about what we do want. This is true whether we’re starting a new business, a new relationship, or a new habit. Inevitably, when we pay more attention to what we don’t want we’re not able to see what we do want and how we can achieve or attain it. Intention is a big buzz word these days – from yoga classes to business journals. Let’s break down what intention is really all about.
In essence, intention is the energy we focus on a particular outcome. As you’ve probably experienced, how we use our energy can have a huge affect on what happens in our lives! Intention is also our conscious – and often times our unconscious – thoughts and feelings about an outcome. So, what we think and feel about what we want makes a big difference in our ability to bring it into our lives.
Even when we’ve made our intention clear, sometimes we don’t get what we’ve set out for. Other times, we intend for one thing to happen and something entirely unexpected occurs. When your intention does not match your outcome, pay attention. It’s these moments that give us clues that something we’re doing might be keeping us from the results we seek.
Often times, we have lots of unconscious thoughts that oppose our conscious ones. When this happens, we’re unaware of what we’re doing that creates undesired outcomes. Another thing may of us do is that we spend a lot of time ruminating on our negative intentions. When we do this, we can’t see when possibilities to get what we want present themselves. This is because we’re so focused on what we don’t want that we fail to see an opportunity to get what we do want.
The good news is that we can change how we use our energy. Getting to know ourselves better and building some new habits can go a long way towards creating the outcomes we desire. Here are three things that you can do today to help bring your intentions into being.
Recognize Your Unconscious Opposition for What It Is
This one can be tricky. It’s pretty clear that we’re not aware of what we’re not aware of (duh!). So, how do we turn this around? In this instance, personal development work is the answer. When we examine ourselves and look for our blind spots, we’re generally able to find them. Personal development work helps us see how our thoughts, beliefs, and actions might have created the “negative intentions” that have held us back. And when we’re aware of our blind spots, we’re able to change our thinking so that we can begin to see the things we did not see before.
Be Patient with Yourself While You’re Building New Habits
A funny thing happens when we start using positive intentions. We may spend a few moments of each day focused on something we want to happen. And then we spend the rest of our day in our default mode – which is the same mode that got us where we didn’t want to be in the first place. All too often, we get frustrated and assume that our effort to bring about our intention is just not working. What we fail to remember in these moments is that it takes time to set a new default. And, it takes more time than saying an affirmation three times a day. So, be patient with yourself. Anything that focuses our energy in a positive direction is helpful, but it may take time to see the big results.
Practice Creative Thinking
Our negativity limits our thinking. It stops us from seeing what we could have or could create. And, quite frankly, when we spend time focused on what we don’t want, we have little time left over to imagine what we do want. To counteract this, take time each day to come up with creative ways to bring more of what you want into your life. What solutions haven’t you thought of? What could you do today that would be different and exciting? The point here is to practice thinking about what you can do and what you’d have fun doing. Creative thinking is linked to positive thinking. And when you can do both, your dreams can grow big.
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People ask me all the time what true happiness looks and feels like. My answer is always self-acceptance. The truth is that our happiness requires our acceptance – especially of parts of ourselves we like the least.
If you don’t have much context for self-acceptance, then you might not know what it’s all about. Let me put it into some concrete terms.
When you accept yourself, you’re okay with who you are. You’re also okay with you are not. You’re always on your side – no matter what happens in your life.
Self-acceptance definitely takes some practice. We all can get carried away with thoughts that are self-shaming, self-judging or self-criticizing. When you catch yourself thinking these kinds of thoughts, I suggest that you douse yourself with self-acceptance because it really is the best antidote to feeling cut down or simply not good enough.
You can get a sense of how self-accepting you are by asking yourself the following questions:
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you’re not alone. Self-acceptance is a continual pursuit that’s just as much about your relationship to yourself as it is about your relationship to others.
If you want to work on building your ability to accept yourself, you can start with these exercises that come from my book Real Answers.
Ask Powerful Questions:
Speak Your Truth:
Talk to Someone Who Was There:
Acceptance of your personal experience radically changes the way you approach almost every aspect of your life and ultimately allows you to engage the world in a more positive, productive way.
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