Heraclitus on Meaningful Play
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Enjoy!
“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”
Heraclitus (535–475 BC)
One of the luxuries of childhood is the lack of logistics. Grown-ups take care of everything, so we can focus only on that right in front of us.
When in a state of pure play, like that of a child, we lead with curiosity. We do what we do for sake of doing it. We formulate little questions like, “What if…?” and “What happens when I …?”
And through these explorations, we learn about the world around us.
As adults, we have more on our minds. We hold a thousand little (and not so little) responsibilities. We manage projects, have relationships, and work within the confines of time of resources.
And while these are unavoidable, they’re not always as meaningful and fulfilling as we’d prefer. For that, we may need to step outside of our roles and responsibilities, at least for a time. We may need to release our lofty aspirations and personal stories in order to fully engage in serious play.
When we step outside our everyday lives, status concerns and mental constructs, we can be as children at play: present, engrossed, curious, willing to try and fail and try again.
When Heraclitus said we’re “most nearly ourselves” when we achieve the seriousness of a child at play, he may have been speaking of these qualities.
And while we can show up and hope this seriousness happens, we can also engineer it. We can aim for the qualities of attention and mindset that will help us get there.
To set up the conditions whereby we enter states of child-like play, we can:
- create a practice environment that suspends interruption and distraction (both physical and digital).
- have everything we need close at hand.
- set creative boundaries that offer both structure and freedom.
- set a timer so we don’t have to worry about time.
- act as if we have all the time in the world to explore and experiment.
Afterward, we can reflect on what moved us towards total engagement, and what distracted us from it. Then next time we can act on that information to optimize future practices.
Over time, we form habits of this playful “seriousness”, and in doing so, find more flow and fulfillment in our music.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.
Your GCS site and The Woodshed community are really super! I am glad I finally joined in, and smacking myself for waiting so long. Thanks again!
I feel my guitar proficiency is improving considerably. Every day I’m exceedingly comfortable with my right hand technique and overall fluency. And my sight-reading has improved as well. Thank you for creating the Woodshed. It’s thoughtful construction and scope and sequence of knowledge and skills has advanced my guitar skills significantly. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
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