I am on my way out the door to a last day of school picnic hosted on a farm up in the mountains. I’m looking forward to celebrating the END of this wild year with other families and have promised I’ll get Rosetta ice-cream on the way home to initiate us officially into summer.
This month in my new group coaching program Garden Party we are talking about play and pleasure. I LOVE this topic. It is so powerful to remember what it feels like to open to unstructured delight. To lose yourself in a sensory experience. To play without outcome. If your inner task-master tells you to play only AFTER all the to-dos are done, I hear you. I have a strong inner controller too.
And yet there is so much wonderful data that reminds us that we actually REQUIRE play and pleasure for mental health.
We know that work + work + work = burnout. But did you know that work +rest + work+ rest + work + rest is similarly inadequate?
We absolutely need those experiences that open us to joy, creativity, and presence. Without them we wither.
Most of the time those experiences are much closer at hand than we might think. Often we simply need to grant ourselves permission. Play and pleasure open the door to one of the questions that fascinates me about people: WHY do we love what we love? This is one of life’s mysteries. I’m talking about soul-deep loves. Essence-drenched delights. (In contrast to numbing strategies or “social self” experiences that we think we SHOULD want, but when we actually experience them discover that we find them less than satisfying.) I love many things which are unimpressive to my Ennea Type 3 Achiever personality.
I love playing urban farmer with my chickens. I love watching foreign movies like Roma. (Sooooo good.) And I love brewing up herbal teas and tinctures and learning more about medicinal plants.
At first the voice that pointed me in the direction of these authentic pleasures was so soft, I could barely hear her. I was really burned out and she was buried under my relentless expectations of myself – professionally and at home. But over the last decade as I’ve listened to this voice more and more she has gotten stronger. And now I’ve come to realize that at my core I’m actually really playful: I just need to give myself room to explore and express this part of me, without agenda or judgement. In fact I can tell when I have gone too long living in the “shoulds” of my day as I start to feel dull inside and resentful. Thankfully a little play goes a long way towards recreating the inner equilibrium.
Now over to you: What delights you? What experiences do you like to lose yourself in? Some of your favorite ways to play may lead to a satisfying outcome. For example I enjoy weeding and replanting our gardens each year. But it is also VITAL to include open ended activities that don’t lead anywhere in particular beyond pleasure in the moment. Things you begin without knowing how/when they will end. I call this “diversifying your pleasure portfolio.” For example, every Thursday night is my sola night, i.e. my night alone in my home while Rich takes the kids out for a meal, to play in the park or to hole up in the Common House of our cohousing community and binge watch Simpsons episodes. For me – an introvert in a 1200 square foot home with one husband, three children, 3 cats, and two birds: these evenings alone are heaven. I dance and make a simple meal and sometimes I’ll watch a show and drink a glass of wine. Normally my ears eat the silence like ice cream. But last week I did something that felt so decadent. I laid down on the outdoor couch on our deck, looked at the trees, and listened to an entire album. It was delicious. I didn’t really plan to listen to whole thing, but I got into it and I could think of nothing that would improve on the moment so I surrendered into it: the leaves swaying above head.
The Leonard Cohen tribute album from the band First Aid Kit flowing out of the speaker. Afterwards I felt so restored. So nourished. Some of your favorite activities will change over time. What delights us one year or in one season of life may feel stale in the next. But usually there are some core themes – we can look to our childhood self as our guide.
If you are passionate about inner growth and living a conscious life, and/or want to feel really happy, satisfied and relaxed inside your days, this may be the one missing ingredient to your custom flourish formula.
Let’s do an experiment! Add more play and pleasure into your life this summer and see what happens!
(Vacation is wonderful but we also need simple pleasures more regularly.) Post a comment below or send me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know what you are going to add into your pleasure portfolio this week!
PS If you would like to grab a copy of my book, The Flourish Formula, for you or a friend, it is a great read for the summer! ⛱️
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