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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.








Allen Mathews

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 stellar teachers – one focused on the technical, 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.




I just upgraded. I have been thinking about it since day one, but wanted to see how it works out for me. I have to say, even though I did not put as much effort in as I expected to, I already hear and feel Improvements when playing compositions I learned some time ago, before joining The Woodshed.

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-Alexey Neyman

These warm-up and stretching exercises are helping me a lot! Because I’m a software developer I have to stay 8 hours typing on a computer keyboard, so I use my hands a lot during the day. At night, when I have some time to practice the guitar my hands and arms are usually in pain because they have been working a lot during the day, but I’ve found that doing the warm-up/stretching exercises in The Woodshed releases me from this pain and I’m then able to practice after doing them.  

You are building a very interesting and working guitar course, because for what I’ve seen so far it really works!


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