Work as Play

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

BLACK's TEDTalk "My Journey To Yo-Yo Mastery" made me think of the Buddhist concept of "Right Livelihood." Marsha Sinetar, in the book, Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow, sees the concept of "Right Livelihood" including a way of working as well as a way of thinking about work. She remarks, "Right Livelihood embodies its own psychology -- a psychology of a person moving toward the fullest participation in life, a person growing in self-awareness, trust, and self-esteem." The concept also includes doing no-harm to self or others. Career counselors often ask the "lottery question" what would you do if you did not have to work for a living? Of course the answer is what you should be doing anyhow. The assumption is that most human beings want to have fun, yet be productive. The psychologist Abraham Maslow calls them 'self-actualizing'. The phrase simply means growing whole.

These thoughts occurred to me probably due to the fact I am just returning from a stay in a Buddhist temple in the Mountains of Korea. What was I doing at a Buddhist temple in the middle of literally "no-where"? I was working. I was also playing. I was working in the sense that I was becoming more familiar with how Koreans practice Buddhism. Besides an opportunity for personal growth and self-understanding -- this visit may help me in psychotherapy practice, cultural lectures, and future research (mindfulness is an area of professional scholarship). But the visit was "work" in that I needed to twist my body into new uncomfortable positions for prayer, meditation, lectures, and even sleeping (on the floor). It was also "work" as Patrul Rinpoche points out: Buddhism is not about "feeling good", but about painful honesty and deep uncomfortable -- but lasting change. Despite some personal and physical unpleasantness, (which we have come to define as "work"), I have to admit it was also "play" in the best sense of the word. I experienced laughter and the simple taste of unique natural Korean food. There were also playful interactions with a Monk and my real "guide" -- my Korean wife Dohee. These experiences were as valuable as the formal education part of the program. All of this was with the black-drop of the stunning beauty of the mountains, the forests, the streams, and the natural beauty of the Korean country-side.

Teaching and learning are like breathing to me. I must do it as part of my nature, just as BLACK must do the yo-yo as part of his. -- Jonathan Appel, Ph.D.

My "job" as a researcher and educator offer me the opportunity to merge work and play. In fact -- I often cannot separate these two aspects of what I do. Students are often amused (or even dismayed) when I tell them my best vacations are the ones in which I am free to roam physically and mentally. I often take a class, or present a paper, or learn or new skill in my "off-time". Teaching and learning are like breathing to me. I must do it as part of my nature, just as BLACK must do the yo-yo as part of his. Following your passion will take you to places you never imagined (like a Buddhist Temple in the Mountains of Korea).

Granted most of us do not work (or even play) in a mountain Buddhist temple, but the experience (and the BLACK video) highlighted for me -- what I think BLACK discovered: work is best when it is often inseparable from play. That does not mean it should be all comfortable and joy all the time in any vocation (or avocation) we choose (and as a professor grading papers reminds me of this). BLACK's desire to become a yo-yo master took many hours of hard practice and quite a few blisters I am sure. He did have the courage to reject the path of comfort and security (and boredom) of a conventional and/or an imposed career. The conventional path often offers security -- but may offer little play or passion. He trusted himself that the yo-yo was his path. One can clearly see that play and work have merged for him. He is bringing joyfulness to himself and others. As the philosopher Alan Watts said: "This is the real secret of life -- to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play." This path can open to new relationships to self and others. This joy is one of the greatest gifts of life -- but only if we are open enough to take that road which may be open to many of us. Trust and play.

Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today's most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or email to learn about future weekend's ideas to contribute as a writer.