My father died of heart failure at 53. For years, I had watched him leave the house every morning, never excited, never eager, never inspired. He walked silently through the door, a look of resignation on his face. He did not go to work with his heart, and his heart failed him through neglect. Over the years, I believe his heart hardened as he worked for a living, and finally his heart suffocated from a lack of expression.
I have tried to live differently. Rather than work for a living, I prefer to say that I play for a living. I do not say this as a matter of semantics. I loved my father and I was heartbroken that he died with so much sadness in his eyes and disappointment in his heart. Though he does not know this, he inspired me away from sadness and disappointment and towards those things that nourish my heart and invigorate my soul. This is his legacy to me.
As I reflect on the nature of work-as-play, I find four distinct elements.
The first element of work-as-play is enthusiasm: we have to want to do the work we do. It has to ignite our deep love for living. We have to reach out with our full presence — with a full yes! — and do our chosen work with our whole fiery spirit. We must know in our heart, in the truth-knowing fluid of our soul’s arteries, that it is right. We may not be able to explain or justify our choice, but we know intuitively that we are on the right path, doing the right thing, breathing the oxygen that our soul’s lungs need to live.
The second element is freedom. We do not serve any master other than our innate freedom of being. We work from our heart, with devotion. Where there is devotion, there is freedom. We love our work because our work reveals who we are. We become intimate with our work and those with whom we work, because the revelations of our soul in what we do has a depth of feeling which exposes our inside to the outside. As the poet Rumi suggests, what we do is the beauty that we love. Beauty, love, and work, when blended together, can be called play.
When we are free, we can tell the truth, and this is the third element. In freedom, there is no fear, no controlling mechanism to intimidate or coerce us. So, we can let what is inside come outside. We can give full expression to our artistic pulse, our soaring energy, our bold declarations, and our daring inventions. We let our full artistry and passion pour out and over everything we touch. Sharing the truth of our deep love and joy is another hallmark of work-as-play.
Work-as-play is part enthusiasm, part freedom, part authentic self-expression.
The fourth element is devotion. Devotion is a state of being in which the life force rushes madly from lover to beloved. How could we not give ourselves fully, totally, absolutely to what we most love? Devotion is thus effortless, because it is natural to live at the farthest edge of giving when one is in love. We touch this inner core of love, and then we give ourselves to it. Our heart demands it, our soul craves it — we will not ever hold back one ounce. Devotion is a state of surrender, of obedience, to that which links us to the whole, to the Universe. Devotion is a state of being whose aura is love, and whose thoughts no longer belong to oneself, but to the single Soul of all creatures.
Perhaps there are other elements contained within this notion of work-as-play, but they will start to turn back onto themselves. They will become mirrored images of each other. We can say that work-as-play involves a sense of meaning. But meaning will always be wordlessly present when we choose and accept what moves from deep within us.
We can say there must be a feeling of purpose, but there is no higher purpose than letting our love dance in all that we do. It is purpose enough. We might say that work-as-play should serve and benefit others. Work-as-play inevitably serves and benefits others, touching them as it does with caring, beauty, love, and freedom. Serving others is the natural outcome of anyone who works with devotion.
My father’s legacy to me is this: grab hold of your soul and do not let go. Follow it. Do not hesitate. Do not negotiate. Do not equivocate. Follow, and be free. On this path, work and not-work do not exist. Even work-as-play is inaccurate. It’s something else altogether. Best to find out for yourself. Don’t believe me.