Jenny: Imperfection Fridays: Play & Rest, Calm & Stillness

I haven’t posted about the Brene Brown course because I’ve been swamped, which is ironic because last week’s lesson was on Play & Rest, and this week’s was on Calm & Stillness.

Once again, I looked at the topics and thought, “Well, duh,” and then read the chapter and did the exercises and thought, “Well, hell, she’s right again.” I would have told you that I had play and rest down, no problem. I make up stuff for a living, and I make things all the time, so I definitely know how to play, and I sleep when I’m tired and I wake up when I’m not tired, so I have the rest thing covered. But Brown has much tougher guidelines for play than I do, including the big one: “Purposeless.” One of the things I hadn’t realized is that while I do things that are like play all the time, they always have a purpose. They have to do something: make my living space better, make my house look nicer so the neighbors don’t throw stones, make money in some way. I do a check before I do anything: Will this produce something useful, something needed, can I justify this?

Once I realized that, the other shoe dropped: I’d whored out all my creativity to that pimp, Usefulness. And that made me go back and look at her seven-part definition, taken from Dr. Stuart Brown’s book on play. We were supposed to take the seven parts and then put them in our own words:

Play Definitions

1. Apparently purposeless: I don’t have to monetize or publish this.
2. Voluntary: Nobody’s making me do anything, I can stop doing this any time I want to.
3. Inherent attraction: This is something I instinctively want to do.
4. Freedom from time: No deadlines; I lose track of time when I do this.
5. Diminished consciousness of self: This is not to prove I am worthy; this is not about being Jennifer Crusie.
6. Improvisational potention: There’s no wrong way to do this, no benchmarks, lots of yes.
7. Continuation desire: I want to do this again and again.

And then the hard part: I had to list the things I could do as play, the things I wanted to do as play, aka my playlist. For somebody who has justified every single thing I’ve done for as long as I’ve lived, it was hell at first, but eventually, I got into the swing of it:


That page really needs a frumpy bunny, but I didn’t have time. ARGH. Play, Jenny, you need play, and Frumpy Bunny is definitely play. Also I’m not sure I can ever really watch movies just to watch movies; I’m always figuring out the writer did something while I watch. But I can damn well try.

The last assignment was a Joy and Meaning list, the things in your life that give your life meaning, that bring you moments of pure joy. Mine turned out to be making things and teaching, no surprise, but also hugging my daughter and playing with my grandchildren, and going outside and just being.

Meaning and Joy

Which led to the next week’s lesson: Calm and Stillness. As some of you know, I tried meditation once with mixed results, but I cowgirled up and got ready to try it again, which is when I realized that cowgirling up was the opposite of letting go, so I started over. My big Ah Ha moment in this lesson was breathing.

I don’t breathe right. That’s not self-criticism, that’s an observation. Over sixty years of asthma and allergies have altered any healthy breathing patterns I might have. I gasp a lot. And that deprives my body of oxygen and makes me tense. I have to learn to breathe better. I looked up breathing exercises (and these), but they usually have you inhaling through your nose, and that’s never much of a possibility for me. I do remember the basics: breathe slowly and exhale for longer than you inhale. I can do that, and I’m working on the nose thing, too.

Oddly enough, the place where my breathing is slowest is outside, which is where all the pollen is. If I walk out onto the back porch, I can feel my pulse slow. The little lake is calm, the breeze blows through the trees, the dogs potter around, birds sing, and my shoulders relax. So clearly, along with “breathing” is “go outside,” even though they’re at cross purposes.

Back to the coursework: The first assignment was to find a picture that represented calm and stillness to me and then answer the question, “What about this picture makes you think of calm and stillness?”


I love that picture. It’s my desktop wallpaper now. The little fox reminds me of Milton, but mostly it’s just that he’s so one with the moment, that perfect moment, so still and calm in the moment. I want to be that fox.

The second assignment was to make a calm map, starting with a map image and then listing things that help you stay calm, putting the map legend or main thing at the bottom.

Calm Map

And finally, we were supposed to write three things that we can do to create “tiny pockets of stillness” in our lives, and then do one of them for five minutes every day. I slipped up and did four, but I’m on it:

Create Stillness

Also, Lifehacker has a lot of stuff on meditation; this page is a good place to start, and if you search the site you’ll come up with other articles on it. And then because when I get really overwhelmed, I play solitaire, I found a new game, Monument Valley, that I think is going to be more calming. It’s not difficult after the first time through (and really not that difficult the first time), and it only has ten levels (I am currently stuck on the 10th level, but I’ll get it), but it’s so soothing once you know how it works, that I think it’ll be better than solitaire, walking Ida through all those beautiful Escher landscapes, avoiding those obnoxious black birds:

Ida from Monument Valley

All of this has far-reaching effects on my life in other ways. I’ve looked at the chaos around me and realized it’s killing me; I’ve looked at the chaos in my finances and realized the uncertainty is dragging me down; I’ve looked at myself in the mirror and realized that I’ve gained weight and I haven’t been eating right and that’s taking a toll. None of this feels like guilt for once; it feels like a recognition of the things that I can do to make my life better, chief among them not working so hard to make myself crazy.

So I’m organizing my house with renewed purpose, I’ve looked at my finances in detail and made a plan, and I’m taking a common sense approach to my health, putting “take your meds” into Things because I always forget and ordering an under-the-desk cycle to see if that will help me get my blood pumping better. I can do all of that because I’m actually pretty calm about it. As Brown advises in her book, I looked at the way I was stressing and beating myself up with guilt and thought, “Is this making things better? Easier? No? Then I’m not going to do it any more.” Deep breaths. I can do this.

I really do love this course.

26 thoughts on “Jenny: Imperfection Fridays: Play & Rest, Calm & Stillness

  1. My goodness this is timely. I was just arguing with my husband the other day about how I had to stop trying to justify everything I did–did it help the house or the family, did it make money–because if it didn’t HELP then it was wasteful. It STOLE time from the family or from housework or it took money away from more important things. (Namely not MY things.) He kept telling me that it wasn’t logical or helpful to approach things that way, and I was trying to adapt, but decades of inculcation are hard to overcome.

    Now I must ponder…. and not agonize over the time “wasted” pondering! 😉 Thanks for sharing. I needed this.

  2. karen says:

    Jenny, I come from Ohio and moved to New Jersey in 1979. I have two words for you about NJ and allergies which kick in the asthma: Neti Pot.

  3. I love this. You’re doing great. Acknowledging the problem is supposed to cut it in half. ; )

    During the past year I fell into awful habits of wasting time at the computer with social media, checking stats and reading other people’s stuff. While some if it was necessary to this newly pubbed author, it did take away from writing. In the past, writing was where I found my peace, calm, and enjoyment.

    I hadn’t been writing new words for some time. After examining that (and admitting it and not justifying)I began writing again. I’m also re-reading Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It is both calming and empowering.

  4. People always ask me what/who I’m making my current quilting project for. Sometimes, it’s for someone in particular — I call them my “commitment” quilts, for graduations and births and that sort of thing — and those are work, even if I also enjoy making them, so I have to be careful not to ONLY do commitment quilts.

    The other quilts, though, those are the play quilts, where I come up with a premise (a color scheme and a basic block) and start playing with my stash, and I don’t really care if I ever finish it (which is why I have so many UFOs, but they don’t generally bother me until they hit critical mass). That purposelessness is definitely where the fun is (although my practical self never strays too far from purpose, since quilts always have a use, even if it’s not determined before they’re made).

    It dawns on me that I haven’t been doing enough of the play quilting. I have two major commitment quilts to make by the end of the summer, and they’ve been kind of weighing me down, making me feel like I have to finish them before I can play with other fun projects. Except, that’s backwards. I need to play a bit, to build up the energy and creativity to finish the commitment quilts.

  5. That’s one of things Brown talks about, that play is necessary. She says the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression, and when I thought about it, that made perfect sense. Depression is a horrible trapped feeling, a life without possibility, and play is complete freedom with limitless possibility.

  6. There’s nothing wrong with you, baby.
    And the game is amazing. Not so much for the game part, but for how beautiful and soothing it is.

  7. Oh. Well. I definitely needed this message. Depression has become such a constant in my life that I feel it will always come back, no matter what I do.

    But depression as the opposite of play? Now that’s something I can use. Thank you very much for sharing this specific thing!

  8. Thanks, I haven’t read that one, Krissie. But I’d looked in the back of the book for more and thought I might get The Gift of Story. Hmmm. Now I’ll go take a look at The Creative Fire.

  9. Jill says:

    I definitely need more play time. This year has been stress on wheels. Way too many commitment quilts. I am going to trade stress wheels for motorcycle wheels and hit the road.

  10. Susanne says:

    I don’t know how I missed it, but that post on meditation was the funniest thing I’ve read. That bathtub shot of Krissie and Alan made me laugh out loud. That was my play for the day 🙂

  11. Lois says:

    That 7 part play thing? Years ago when I was getting daily migraines a neurologist told me that I needed to do something everyday that didn’t have a pass/fail component or a time limit or any of those other pressure components. That’s when I started to read for pleasure without the guilt.

    Thanks for the reminder of that meditation blog – I laughed out loud again!

  12. Kelly S says:

    Hmm, I am very much like you. Besides the allergies, asthma & challenge to breathe through my nose (HA!), I find it nearly impossible to do something that is a commitment or that has a purpose. My husband has encouraged me to play more to the point it is almost nagging. It’s just there is so much to do and time is limited. I pretty much need to be sick to watch tv with the exception of 2 shows per week. I have 3 books to read for reviews before I can read a novel for fun. I have 3 commitment quilts & 3 more anticipated. Sometimes petting the cats is more commitment (nagging little buggers) than it is for the joy of snuggling a furry loved one. So, ok, I might have a problem.

  13. Rouan says:

    I don’t know how I missed it either but I just read your post on trying to meditate and I laughed so much I startled my cats. They had just settled down for a nap and are now giving me “the look”.

  14. Micki says:

    Internet has kind of turned into my play, and I do feel guilty about it. I *can* justify some of it (keeping my English intact, and also, knowing new stuff). But I can’t tell if it’s pure play, or just addictive . . . .

    I really like doing stuff that has a pay-off, though. Maybe I need to try a little harder to convince myself that play is good for me, so I should just do it. (-: Justifying, again.

  15. Mary Tyler says:

    Hi All,
    I’m a longtime lurker but I do love computer games. If you haven’t already,look at the Drawn games, (there are four of them,starting with the Painted Tower) and the gorgeous Room Games( The Room and The Room Two) and the pop up book game, Tengami. Back to lurking.

  16. I’d heard about The Room and The Room Two. I’ll definitely check into the others. I love this one less because it’s a game and more because it’s so soothing to move Ida through those landscapes (once you’ve figured out how). And I love the Escher orientations, the way you have to break your preconceptions about architecture and space to get Ida from one level to the next.
    But definitely checking out your recommendations, too. Games are so beautiful on the iPad, and they’re another good way to play (duh).

  17. I’ve thought about meditating but thinking about it and doing it are very different. I find it both cool and strange that there are meditation apps. I clicked that Lifehacker link you shared and then tried to download Buddhify 2.

    Totally messed with my zen that I need IOS 7 for the app. It will completely screw my calm tonight if I attempt to upgrade to IOS 7 so I’m going to be one with letting go and put it away for the evening.

    That’s so progressive of me because I’m frequently a “must do now” person.

    See, the universe is already helping. 🙂

  18. Mary Tyler says:

    Hi Jenny,

    I’m breaking my lurking silence again…. the internet may crash. I played half of Monument Valley last night and love it. The crow people are especially wonderful. They remind me of every critic I’ve met and the ones in my head. “Why are you wasting time doing that?” “Will anyone pay good money for that?” “Get a job.” “You’re wasting time. You should be washing dishes, weeding the garden, sweeping the floor, etc. instead of making things nobody will ever pay for.”It was lovely to deal with the crows and shut them up. Thank you for the suggestion.

  19. It really is a wonderful experience. I go back in and go through the levels just because it’s so peaceful and soothing, even with the crow people. So glad you liked it!

  20. aunt snack says:

    When I was in the psych ward for depression, Saturday night programming was up to the inmates. When it was my turn, I gave all the money to my mother and had her buy cheap wind-up toys. We sat around and played with the cheap but fun stuff we hadn’t allowed ourselves to enjoy since childhood. Even the most depressed of us had a great time and people who had avoided each other all week bonded. Play really can be the opposite of depression!

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