The “Why Not?” Practice: Making Space for Play
“Expressive movement reaches its pinnacle in free play. It is observed in many mammals and all humans and is individualistic. It can consist of the spontaneous leaps and gambols we see in sheep, horses, and wolves. It is seen in humans as free associative movement that unfolds not through any external dictates, but motion that arises from a deep immersion in direct experience, following the moment to moment stimuli of the senses, of feelings, of images.”
-“Life Dancing Itself” by Christine Caldwell, from the On Being blog
As mentioned in the Beautiful Moments post, my friend Melissa inspired the “Why Not?” practice as an outcropping of “Beautiful Moments.” The basic idea is this:
There are things that are very possible and would bring us joy, but we often don’t do these things. Why not just do them and see what happens?
The classic example the two of us often refer to is walking through the grass in bare feet. She has a lovely story where her four-year-old daughter imparted this wisdom to her one day in the back yard:
“Do you know how I know spring is here?”
“How?” Melissa asked.
“It’s because we can go outside with our shoes off. We need to be barefoot so we can feel the grass between our toes. Take off your shoes, Mommy.”
Last spring Mel and I started practicing “Why not” moments, and I felt it added some much needed lightness to my life. After two very hard years, I had gotten so serious about my mental and spiritual recovery, I had at times forgotten that the goal of the work is to experience all of life more fully, not just the things that are difficult. In essence “why not” moments give permission and space to engage in play.
Per the usual, the two of us shared our moments via text:
Brandi: Why not moment: dancing barefoot on a muddy hilltop! Yay!!
Melissa: Wildflowers from my backyard.
Brandi: Twinning. This is from my why not moment yesterday. : )
Many of my personal “Why not” moments come when I am driving between one place and another by myself. I stop by a park on the way (or out of the way) to the drug store, take off my shoes, and stick my feet in a river or lay down and stare at the sky for five minutes.
My favorite moment, and also Mel’s, is one of the two of us together. We were on our usual after-work patio for happy hour one day and what started as a sprinkle turned into a downpour. Instead of following the others who had retreated inside, we stayed- arms raised to the sky as raindrops poured down on our faces and bodies until we were soaked. It was surprisingly refreshing experience we both agreed (though mildly embarrassing when we walked back through the bar to dry off in the bathroom).
In essence, “Why Not” moments are moments of mindful play. One is making the choice to pause, look at the possibilities surrounding and choose one built on pleasure, novelty and joy.
This isn’t a hedonistic impulse; it is a necessity for human development and a key to healthier living. Stuart Brown is a researcher and expert in the field of play. While one might assume Brown is a convivial sort, his work is rooted in a discovery he made while studying mass murderers. He found a link between lack of developmental play in childhood and tendencies toward violence in adulthood, resulting in great tragedies.
He nows studies the importance of play for adults as well. In the All Things Considered story “Play Doesn’t End with Childhood: While Adults Need Recess,” he defines play as, “something that’s done for its own sake. It’s voluntary. It’s pleasurable. It offers a sense of engagement into what it is that really you enjoy. It takes you out of a sense of time and the act or the experience of play itself is more important than the outcome.”
Play makes humans- adults included- happier and healthier. In addition, because play is self-directed, engaging and not linked to a specific outcome, it supports mindfulness, or nonjudgmental awareness and acceptance of the moment.
In these final summer days and hours, there are so many opportunities to soak up the sun and rain before it transitions back to the seasons of change and hibernation. In honor of my friend Melissa whose favorite Why Not Moments often include water experiences, and who herself embodies all that is beautiful about the flowing waters of life, I want to end this post with a quote from my favorite novel Gilead by Marilynne Robinson that describes what play looks like to me. (Note: I may just be looking to include one of my favorite moments from modern literature here.)
There are so many opportunities to celebrate all that is miraculous in life, water and otherwise.
Please feel free to share your own experiences with these practices by commenting on this post or sending me an email via the “Contact” tab.
I am planning to begin a series focused on Why Not Moments and Beautiful Moments, so more to come.