P IS FOR PLAY
Elaine Doll-Dunn, Psy.D.
“The first and basic commandment for health and longevity is the following:
Pursue your own Perfection.”
My dad knew how to play. He knew how to work as well; found his passion in life, celebrated it, and made his work his play. He worked from dawn ‘til dusk, and he worked hard. But when the horses were groomed and grained and galloping off for a roll in the dust, or the tractor greased and gassed and back in the shed, or the sheep penned or loosed as the task demanded, or the cattle trailed from summer to winter pasture, he was ready to play. In the summer it was down to the arena to rope, dog, or top off a bronc. In the winter we ice-skated on the frozen river, pulled taffy in the Aladdin Lamp lit kitchen, and filled the house with the music of his violin or the staccato rhythm of his Tony Lama boots tap dancing across the kitchen linoleum. Being bored was never an option, and being still unacceptable. He knew intuitively the value of play. I rarely saw him motionless. Standing in the yard he constantly had a rope in his hand “catching” the hitching post. Or he would have a piggin’ string and absentmindedly twirl it as he talked to someone. (He could actually spin a loop and tap-dance at the same time, cool to watch.)
He must have understood that “recreate” was the basis of “recreation”. Fun was a high priority, and everybody was included. During his life time he was a bronc rider, a trick rider, a roper, a boxer, a football player, a runner, a dancer, and a tireless horseman. He found his love in ranching and made it his career…I think it was always difficult for him to understand that for some of us, long hours in the saddle lost its luster after six or seven hours.
But from him I learned that finding your passion and having the courage to live it is not only the essence of life, but critical to mental and physical health. From him I developed my own personal vision statement, “Pray, Ponder, and Plunge.” To this day it’s my credo; if I want to do something a little out of the ordinary, I pray about it, ponder on it, and then---what the heck---just plunge in and do it. Worked for him, is working for me. Play is essential, and it most often involves movement. He died at 85, a fit and handsome cowboy still; silver haired, lean-bodied, buff. Guy Doll, the epitome of strength; mentally, morally, physically.
Dr. George Sheehan says, “I am ready to start a new religion, the first law of which is, ‘Play regularly’. An hour’s play a day makes a man whole and healthy and long-lived. A man’s exercise must be play, or it will do him little good.”
Recent studies in both England and Ireland have shown that hard physical work did not change the coronary-risk factors or heart disease in more than thirty thousand men. However, in the same group, hard physical activity during leisure time was accompanied by a significant reduction in risk factors and heart attacks. Not by hard work, but by swimming and running and heavy gardening, and by tennis and squash and handball, and other forms of play these men achieved health and long life.
So… not just running, but running that’s play, is what’s necessary. Exercise that’s work is worthless. But exercise that is play will give you health and long life. Nor does competition have to be in the equation. Children running just for fun are building a healthy heart, a trim body, and a relaxed mind. It doesn’t all have to be about winning, there are better compensations.
What is your play? What is your passion? Something you would do for nothing. Something that gives you security and self-acceptance and a feeling of completion. When you find it, build your life around it. “Therein lies perfection,” said Marcus Aurelius, “to live out each day as one’s last.” There is no better test for play than the desire to be doing it when you die.
If you have found what you love, if you have identified an undeniable zeal, good for you. If not, try running. Try biking, Try walking. Not for the time, not for the training, not for the task. Just to do it. Do it because it feels good. Do it because it feels even better as it becomes easier and easier to do and harder and harder to skip. Do it because it’s okay to play, do it because you can feel and see a difference in your body and in your mind and in your attitude. Do it for you. An hour a day is the best investment you can make on your health contract…insurance companies will love you.
Dad was right, play is essential; and y’gotta make your own fun.
Guy Doll’s Daughter
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