We have no idea what will befall us in the future, but we can commit to paying attention to how we show up to meet whatever happens next.
Sitting at my kitchen table in the morning a few weeks ago I was struck with an urgent feeling that I must go home to my parents. An hour later I had flights booked and bags packed to visit them in Northern California.
On the surface, I was going home to offer support: My maternal grandmother had recently been moved into an assisted-living situation, and the transition was proving difficult for our family. As I traveled, I made plans to bake my mom her favorite scones for breakfast, practice deep listening, and give lots and lots of hugs.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink” - Proverb
Recently I was at a marketplace in the old sugar plantation town of Hilo, on the east side of the Big Island of Hawaii, about an hour from where I now live. It’s a once-bustling sugar cane industry town that now finds itself facing severe economic challenges. Hilo has had its share of hard times, and I’m pretty sure it never fully recovered from the great tsunami of 1960, a setback that took 61 lives and left the town almost completely destroyed.
This week I was given an unexpected gift of clarity. I realized with surprise and shock that I was doing a bunch of work I didn’t really want to do. The kicker is that I’d volunteered for these tasks, and here I was, staring down a To-Do List that didn’t feed my spirit. How could this have happened?
Mark Lepper, a social psychologist at Stanford, found that if you pay children and adults to pursue what they already enjoy doing, they will no longer be motivated to continue pursuing it without getting paid. The simple reason is that pay subverts play. In fact, reason subverts play, because play is a natural outcome of a joyful mind. As play researcher Stuart Brown, MD, writes, play is “apparently purposeless — done for its own sake.” Nevertheless, such purposelessness has extraordinarily positive effects. Play quiets our busy minds, putting a stop to our constant barrage of thoughts about the past and future.