Recess, Adulticide and Why Grown Ups Are So Flippin’ Boring
According to Daniel Dumbrowski, the ancient Greeks liked play. It was important enough to be foundational in their idealized concepts of all things human. Play to them had three faces, Frolic, Competition and War, and the second two categories had a far greater purity to them than what we perceive them to mean today.
Competition was play within guidelines and rules, the goal being for all competitors to grow, learn and increase their awareness and understanding. That resembles our current idea of competition as much as the first Clash of the Titans movie resembled the recent remake. The distorted modern ideal of competition is completely about winning, usually winning at any cost. It’s domination of something or someone. For the Greeks, that is an entirely different category: War.
Ya ever jump in a leaf pile? That’s Frolic. It begins when we giggle as babies for no reason other than joy. In fact, to say frolic=joy would not earn ya anything below an A in the algebra of life.
Stuart Brown, who studies play… he’s a play scientist, which might be the coolest job in the world… discusses play, with the emphasis on the quality of frolic, as being essential to our development, but not just as snot-nosed pre-adults. Our relationship with the planet, with each other and with ourselves all benefit from the lessons we learn from play. Within nature, play is an altered state, a bit like LSD for the spirit, which allows us to explore what is possible.
Absence of play, according to the experts, makes ya crazy. Gonzo. Psycho… no, really. People like Start Brown, who take play seriously enough to make some science out of it, have found a gaping void where play should be in the formative years of folks who are less than caring about right versus wrong later in life. Ya know… sociopaths. Yikes. Um… let’s go climb a tree.
So if we remember Dumbrowski’s telling of the ancient Greek model of the three faces of play, the seemingly purposeless movements and interactions of Frolic to the rule-based pursuit of empowerment of Competition to the quest for dominance of War, then it ain’t hard to make a correlation to our modern strength training practices. The lack of seriousness in Frolic means that it isn’t taken very seriously (an ironic correlation that, as mentioned, can make us bat shit crazy). But we’ll shout and slap and grunt ourselves silly during training with huge emphasis on the other two aspects
We’ll make a pitch here that Play and Movement are the conjoined twins of our training protocol, and let’s remember that both of those have the footnote of “see also: Strength” in their definitions in the Bodytribe dictionary. So our holistic strength model might tarnish if out training is decidedly heavier with any of these three aspects. A good ol’ evenly sliced pie chart might be the graphic representation of what we seek between the three faces of play within our training and within our lives. Let any aspect of play dominate your ritual and it’s time you examined how you get along with the rest of the planet. Once again, I bet the direct correlation will be apparent.
Frolic is play seemingly without purpose… doing just to do, being just to be, moving just to move. Animals and children seem to grasp this, adults seem to forget it. In fact legendary fitness and body expert Bonnie Prudden called our adult process of forgetting how to enjoy this level of play as adulticide, because forgetting our child self is killing our adult self.
But maybe there is a purpose. It simply may not jive with our adult brains. Frolic contains a recipe that is so subtle, so unconscious that we forget how integral it is to completing the potential of our DNA. Spontaneity, creativity and imagination are the bass, drums and piano that makes up this particular rhythm section, and without that jazz in your soul, your organic machine may as well be a robot.
We’re more verb than noun. Our bodies are in constant flux even when we are still. Our minds are in perpetual creation even when we’re not thinking. We, despite our best efforts, are constantly trying to BE, even when if we put all or efforts into just existing. Purposeful movement, meaning anything voluntary, offers us a chance to understand our relationship with, oh, all sorts of stuff. Ourselves, first and foremost, and, not surprisingly, that usually correlates to your other relationships. Movement and strength are simply indicators of our relationship with our bodies, and our relationship with our body is an indicator of our relationship to everything else on the planet. So if that relationship isn’t playful, what is it? And why? And what does that say about our other relationships?
So frolic has a great deal of purpose. It just doesn’t feel like it does.
“If the purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it probably isn’t play,” says Brown. Play increases problem solving. Play is born from curiosity and exploration. Emotional, cognitive and social behaviors are byproducts of the chaos of frolic, the organization of competition, and the focus of battle. And so is, importantly, imagination!
Here’s a thought…
You matter. Treat yourself accordingly.
The modern Fitness Industrial Complex is designed for you to be led, for you to obey. Granted, in fun and goofy ways, like a Zumba class, or sometimes into battle, like a major conflict with a potent minion of gravity, like a heavily loaded barbell. But we’re often having our hand held by some sort of expert, someone who has done the thinking and experiencing for us and can direct us down a path they’ve already mapped out over geography they have thoroughly charted. You are no longer an explorer, no longer a curious spirit discovering personal limits as much as patron on an amusement ride, following tracks already laid out for you.
Prefab programs lack personal growth. Unless our play-o-meter allows us to let our inner 8-year old see the information as simply Play-doh that we can twist and mash and create something very much our own with, we’ll end up losing the ultimate lesson. We know nothing until we make it our own.
The trainer/client or teacher/student scenario has the most impact if both parties can understand it more as a master/apprentice scenario, letting a journey unfold that will ultimately turn the person on the receiving end of the info into their own artist, their own master.
Otherwise the lessons are moot.
Play is the discovery of personal limits. As children this is done without awareness, which on one hand is a freedom, and on the other… well…possible danger. But if that isn’t a germ for possibility, what is? We can create and expand our brains, muscles and spirits with only the seed of information, the initial germ of an idea or concept or tool. It is through play that we understand our freedom to make our own journeys with that seed, mold our own empires of fire with just a spark. We need to embrace that freedom as adults, when we’re in the position to embrace sagacity as a guide to our search. But instead we often set the limits before we even begin the journey, usually by hiding from free thought, dodging discernment, curiosity and purity of enthrallment through creation.
Documenting Play: Oxymoron?
Embodiment disappears when we obsess with external measuring sticks… heart rate, sets and reps, times intervals. All have a place, but as pieces, not law. Our most life-giving properties, our super software that let’s us earn a place on this green globe’s scheme, is immeasurable. Spontaneity, creativity… is there a love clock I don’t know about? Can you chart my passion on your Droid? Frank Forencich, the Exuberant Animal guru, jokes about giving into the modern trends of documentation and measurement by creating APE (Ancestral Physical Education) units.
“An APE unit is simply a full day of sustained, outdoor locomotion, physicality and exploration: a sunup to sundown effort of moving your body in the natural world.”
Combine your APE units with his Combined Physicality Rating (that’s right… CPR), and, he quips…
“…We find an ideal solution that should keep everyone happy. By working together, we can create a composite metric that we can log into a spreadsheet and upload into a data base and then get down to some serious, laborious number-crunching. We can work some formulas and write an iPhone app that will help us keep the whole thing on tap for instant reference and comparisons.
“Or, we could just go outside and move our bodies. It worked before and it can work again.”
Hey, don’t count me out of the counting and tallying clan. Everything we do can have indicative properties, and say what you like about our supposed primitive DNA. We like to compare stats, often against each other, but most importantly, against ourselves. We dig benchmarks. A little hard and fast data at our fingertips can give us linear proof of our previous boundaries crumbling through our efforts. Representing those efforts through some good solid characters and numbers, graphs and charts, can tickle a logical embodiment in us, if understood for what it is… the mapping of the physical process. If we dwell completely in the metaphysical, the touchy-feely quest for movement Nirvana, sans our very human ability to keep track of a few things, then we’re actually missing a key ingredient to the Embodiment special sauce.
And that’s the potential danger of the ‘nothing but primal’ movement. We’re not primal. We’re here and now. And we need to understand our current relationships. A little tracking and some occasional math is a lubricant to understanding, not an obstacle to it.
The problem is the fitness-world obsession with finding pure truth in those numbers. They tell us as much about our connection with ourselves as a diagnostic test tells you about the driving experience of your car. Whether the number comes from a scale, the weight on the bar, or the time on a clock, it is not a complete representation of what you can do, of who you are as a moving creature. Heck, in the case of the scale, it tells ya didley squat about your abilities, unless fitting into certain pant size becomes an Olympic sport or a path to empowerment (as of 2013, it is not).
A large portion of modern weightroom protocol squelches Frolic as we are taught to obey numbers and statistics. Play becomes work, fun becomes obligation. We become less than human, not greater.
The last time most of us Westernized movers (and non-movers) had unregulated challenges against gravity, undocumented muscles creating force, movement free from clipboards or notebooks or formulas or tracking apps was at recess. Play is often synonymous with something essentially childish, and, like innocence and under-arm baldness, disappears as maturity set in. Grown-up… Adulthood… all words that seem to tow the line for seriousness. As mentioned earlier, play becomes hyper-competitive, war-like in many cases, or is eliminated entirely as we age. Frolic is long discarded.
The job of a trainer isn’t to just teach exercises. The duty of a coach isn’t to just yell motivation or start the clock ticking. No, the goal towards holistic strength is to cultivate Self-Awareness, Self-Reliance and Self-Importance, which ultimately make you a much groovier member of your Tribe. Empowerment, as we’ve spewed many times, doesn’t exist on a personal level unless it includes the Tribe.
So we can keep things simple.
Play = movement.
Movement = strength.
Strength = empowerment.
Hence play = empowerment.