Go out and play
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 1, 2013 – 12:00am
Sometimes I just feel like dropping the ball with everything and just disappearing for a while. Life can be so busy that one needs a respite, some breathing space. And since the metaphor I am using is “breathing,” what I am saying is I need to exhale, too. You can’t keep on taking the world by breathing in everything. You have to expel the air you take in.
Once in a while, I feel the overwhelming pull of obligations and engagements that I must attend to and I feel trapped. Don’t get me wrong. I like being busy and doing a lot of things. I like people, too. But there is also a need to be alone at times, to hear one’s thoughts and feelings, let them go and just disappear into the silence within.
“Disappearing” can mean taking an hour’s walk, going to the gym, traveling to a new place nearby or just going off on my own with just a camera. Turning off the Internet helps. Meditation helps a lot. Shutting the world off and just playing the guitar and piano can really do it for me, too.
Basically, the point of all these activities is to have some solitude where I can stop reacting to stimuli, and instead instigate conscious action on my own. It is saying “no” to responsibilities, pressures and the push and pull of life even for a while. It is stopping all the sirens and alarm bells of fixed schedules and must-do’s and just going somewhere and watching one’s self unravel aimlessly and naturally without all that poking and prodding from the world.
I know some people doing NGO (non-government organization) work who are perennially tired and often seem like they have lost their zest for life. They seem always swamped with work, pursuing their mission to help the poor and other altruistic endeavors. They do not earn much but they do a lot of work. And those tasks we all know can seem endless and really daunting.
These people usually start out full of idealism. They commit to a life of helping the poor and the downtrodden. It must be very rewarding to see the fruits of one’s labors pay off. It is a good feeling when you can change the trajectory of people’s lives to better circumstances. But sometimes, compassion fatigue can set in. When it happens, the commitment to stay the course is there but the feeling is gone. Knowing how conscientious some of these NGO types are, they will still show up to do the work even if they don’t feel like it.
Soon, they feel the physical and spiritual fatigue. They become tired and numb to the psychic rewards they used to get from helping others. Where before they had joy in the work, now the high is gone. This dry spell can last for weeks, months, even years. Meanwhile, they live with the drudgery of responsibility and duty accompanied by some guilt because of how they feel.
I can identify with this since I participate and lend time and effort to many causes. After awhile, it does get tiring. You want to stop caring. But being the person that you are, you tell yourself that you simply have to continue doing it.
An NGO friend narrated to me how he woke up one day and realized he had nothing left to give, at least for that moment. He felt he had been running on empty for quite a while. There was nothing to joyfully give or share. What he had left was the absence of fulfillment and joy that used to go with the work, and a certain bitterness. He woke up feeling that he had given so much of his time and personal effort to a cause that now seemed meaningless, and even thankless. Where before he gave happily and never counted the cost, now he caught himself doing just that.
I can only imagine what it is like for good, dedicated government employees who are underpaid, overworked and often despised and ridiculed by those whom they serve. Or how about priests, nuns? How do they cope? Where do they “disappear” to?
I know that there is great reward in giving and being generous and being responsible for other people. These capacities also define what being an adult means. And the world needs more responsible adults.
But being an adult and everything that goes with it must be a sustainable endeavor. How does one do that? The answer is, by not always being an adult. Quite simply put, one must take a leave from being the stiff, ever responsible, answerable grown-up who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. One must take time to play. Yes, play! And the more often we play, the more balanced we become as adults.
“Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature, says American author Tom Robbins.
I agree with this. Extremely serious, dogmatic men and women who take no time to have a good laugh, or indulge in activities that make them happy, are terrible guardians of the world. These are people who do not like spontaneity, candidness who end up destroying their spirit and those of others with heavy doses of seriousness. They can be academicians, businessmen, politicians, ideologues, or from any kind of occupation. They are people who have no time to notice the poetry found in simple living. Their perfectionism, their total adherence to rules and duties without question can be soul-killing. They are joyless, tired adults whose sense of “duty” inspires no one, not the least themselves. Their fearful response to life prevents them from seeing the value of the invisible and the symbolic aspects of richer living.
Whoever it was who said “the price of eternal vigilance is boredom” knew that all work and no play makes us all dull, boring and joyless.
So do yourself and the world a favor. When you feel you need to rest, refresh, recharge or rekindle, just stop whatever you are doing. Go out and play. Do what makes you happy and fully engage what you are passionate about on your own terms. The world will be a better place when happier, more functional adults also play, not just work.