Playing with Possibilities 🤸♀️
A guest post by Sarah Filman, coach and facilitator at Playful Perspectives
Susan, my therapist, waited patiently as I frantically explored the deep disappointment that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and what I was really passionate about. Because for as long as I can remember, my greatest ambition was for the knot that’s lived in my sternum for decades to release so I could finally take a breath that didn’t get cut short at the bottom of my throat. Now after years and years of putting in the hard work to have a different relationship with anxiety and recognize my people-pleasing tendencies, I finally felt ready to want for more and “build the life of my dreams.” But what dreams? My dreaming muscle was weak and hadn’t been exercised in years.
“What did you love to do when you were younger?” she asked. “Before middle and high school.”
I closed my eyes to remember myself as an 8-year old and feel into a younger body. My muscles tightened up as I remembered other kids contentedly drawing astronauts, doctors, and dinosaurs (Jurassic Park had just come out) on their “When I grow up…” worksheets while I (literally) drew a blank. While unsure of my own answer, I was practical enough to be skeptical that T-Rex was on the table.
Memories and feelings started pooling in that well-worn spot in my sternum. Of not wanting to get in trouble. Of craving the approving smile of my teachers. Of wanting to be safe and know what I was doing at all times.
Tears of frustration and sadness welled up in my eyes as I told Susan that I couldn’t easily remember what I genuinely loved to do when I was younger. With a pathetic shake in my voice I said I’d think about it and report back next week. As my people-pleasing monster reared its little head, I wondered to myself if it was possible to fail a therapy session.
During the week, I let myself sit (and shower) with the question of what I loved to do when I was younger, and stories eventually came back to me little by little. Building a blanket and pillow fort in the hot New England summer with a stack of library books piled up and reading for hours by flashlight. Going to the Museum of Science with my dad and learning about how your brain can play tricks on you. The joyful feeling of finally getting out of my head when I learned to tap dance. Playing board games with my family like ‘Careers’ (ironically). Watching the Ghostwriter team on PBS solve puzzles. Making up plays and sketches with my friends and begging my friend’s mom to record us using her camcorder.
Learning. Movement. Play.
Even from just the handful of stories I could remember, themes emerged that felt true to who I am and what I’m about that had been living underneath the weight of that chest spot, waiting patiently for me. I love to be smacked with awe and wonder of all the things in the world there are to learn about and how much we don’t know. Movement helps me quiet the overthinking and lets me tap (pun very much intended) into how I’m really feeling. Playing lets in lightness, laughter, and a spirit of experimentation. With a true laugh my breath can’t help but go all the way into my belly.
The power of having these words is that I can use them to guide choices about both what I want to do and how I want to be. They provide structure and support to exercise my dreaming muscle.
On the do-ing side, I can ask the question of what I’m excited to learn about, how I want to move my body, and what is fun & playful for me, and then figure out how I can spend more time do-ing those things. (Random aside: My most recent 🤯 learning comes from Topknot team member Daphne after I told her about my passion for marine invertebrates: Sea angels are real!)
But perhaps more interesting is the ‘how I want to be’ part. How can I use these words and think of them as lenses that I can apply to lots of situations I’m in to make them feel more connected to who I am. I can ask: “What is there to learn from this situation?”, “What am I feeling and how can I get more into my body right now?” or “What can I play with here?”
Reflecting on the be-ing part also helped me think about my original situation I brought to Susan of not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. Maybe instead I can ask the question of how I want to be in my life. From there I can play with the possibilities of what I want to do, and learn about what feels right for me.
This post was originally published on the Topknot Blog in December, 2020.