Don’t do anything that isn’t play

Jan 23, 2023

Mike Korman

I work with fathers supporting them in nurturing their relationships with their kids,  partners, themselves and with life itself. My approach is based on Nonviolent Communication.

Marshall Rosenberg, creator of nonviolent communication, said “don’t do anything that isn’t play”. 

Play. What is play? 

I think about this a lot. 

Marshall explains that play is when you are consciously doing anything. 

This means that as you do anything you are conscious of the divine energy that you are as you do it. 

Let me contrast play with what Eckhart Tolle calls acceptance.

When my daughter screamed for 20 minutes last night, what we commonly refer to as a tantrum, I wasn’t in a state of play. I was in a state of acceptance. 

Acceptance says “this is what life is presenting me with now and no matter how much I might not like it, this is what is happening.” 

As Byron Katie says “When I argue with reality, I lose. But only 100% of the time”. 

So there I am standing next to my daughter who is screaming (she wanted to visit friends but her mum and I decided she was too tired and so we stayed home). Screaming. The walls were vibrating in the house. 

And so I stood there and I practised acceptance to the best of my ability. I saw, and owned, that this is reality right now and a sense of peace began to vibrate through me. Nothing massive, a subtle feeling of calm. And I looked at her and I felt love. 

I noticed that I didn’t try and divert her attention (“hey, do you want to me to tell you a funny story?”) or diffuse the situation (“hey it’s OK, we’ll see them tomorrow, shhhh, shhhh”). I was present with her. 

I looked at her and saw her difficulty in that moment. I saw how she’s been overwhelmed emotionally as of late and how much anticipation and perhaps fear are weighing on her (she has a brother on his way to the world in the coming days). And I saw that in this moment she just needed to cry, to let it all out. This was the expression that needed to happen now. 

This is acceptance. 

It is seeing reality as it is, even if I’m not enjoying it. 

I like to ask myself “Can I sense the part of me that is willing to accept that this is what is happening now?”

Oftentimes when I ask this question the first thing I’ll notice is a thought “no I can’t, I don’t fucking want this!!!”

And then if I’m able to, I don’t get tangled up in that thought, I watch it pass and then persist with my question – “can I sense a part of me that is willing to accept that this is what is happening now?”

In this way I continue to drop deeper into myself and gradually connect with that part of me, which is allowing of all life. It is not so much me but that divine energy that is alive in me.  

This for a father, or any human, is a crucial practice – because a lot of parenting and of being in a relationship is coming into contact with behaviour from those that we love that we find difficult.

So that’s acceptance. 


What about enjoyment – play?


When Marshall said “don’t do anything that isn’t play” he didn’t mean that you should be laughing with joy with everything that you do or in deep comfort thinking “Oh my god this feels good”

He meant that we should be connected to the needs that we are meeting with everything that we are doing, otherwise, he says, we should stop doing that task. 

Marshall tells the story of how he didn’t enjoy taking his kids to a far away school because it was more time on the road for him but when he took a moment to connect with the needs behind the action he realised that education and a supportive learning environment were very important needs of his. 

This way he turned an action that he wouldn’t describe as play into one of play. 

Play is an internal experience we have in relation to whatever it is that we are doing. It is our ability to connect with the needs – the creative life energy that moves us and in us – that is behind and within this action that we are taking now. 

Eckhart Tolle talks about enjoyment/play (I use them interchangeably) in a similar way. He says that enjoyment is when we take any action and make it the focal point of our life in that moment. When this happens, when we are connected through our attention to what we are doing now, we can sense a vibrating energy which he calls the joy of being. 

So as we drive our kids to school our focal point is whatever we are doing in that moment. 

We sense our body in the chair, our hands gripping the wheel, our breath in and out, the sun reflecting off the windscreen, our child babbling to themselves behind us (and if your child is screaming then that’s when you move to acceptance my friend). And as we do this we can become aware of a subtle vibration, a joy of just being. 

The focal point is not to get the kids to kindergarten so I can get to that work meeting on time. This action is not a means to an end. It is an end in and of itself. The focus is on the moment and of the simple enjoyment of being. 

For me this is to be connected to myself in this moment. I sense this as one of my deepest longings – to be connected to myself, to the divine energy that I am, in this moment. 

When this happens I experience joy and calm.

So enjoyment is not only about having beers with mates on the weekend, it’s about the everyday stuff. 

It’s about all those tasks that we do as dads that we don’t really enjoy or sometimes don’t enjoy. 

The dishes, the washing, changing nappies/diapers, tidying the house, taking out the rubbish, changing bed sheets, travelling to and from work, buying groceries, taking the car for a service, filling up the car with fuel, paying bills etc. 

These tasks are not going away, they are part of the everyday….and we can learn to enjoy them. 

By connecting to the place in us that is alive as we do these tasks we bring joy into them. On the surface not that much might change. But internally it is a very different experience. 

For me both Marshall and Eckhart are all talking about the same thing – connect with yourself and stay connected. This divine and alive energy yearns to be seen and to flow into the world and touch our lives and everything that we do.

And what I take from them is that the motivating force to anything that we do should be enjoyment. If we are not enjoying the task in front of us then stop and find a way to enjoy it. And if you really can’t find a way to enjoy it then stop doing it. 

Yes, you have that option. 

To some tasks we just say “no”. Like we did to our daughter yesterday “no, I am not willing to take you now to your friends” or “no, I am not willing to do the dishes now, I am too tired, they will get done some other time”. 

As Marshall lamented, so much of what motivates our actions is fear (what will happen if I don’t do this?) or guilt (I “should” do this). His call is one of replacing these with enjoyment, such that joy becomes our fuel motivating us to do what we do. That joy moves us in life. 

And this idea of joy and play is so central to fatherhood and our relationship with our kids. Kids understand this idea – they just want to play – and through them we can remember it for ourselves and become a more nurturing playful dad in the process. I’ll go into this in another article at some point. 

Mike Korman

I work with fathers supporting them in nurturing their relationships with their kids,  partners, themselves and with life itself. My approach is based on Nonviolent Communication.

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