In Ludo, Sperant (In Play, Hope)

The Latin maxim “In vino, veritas” is pretty clever, short, sweet and to the point. Simply translated it means “in wine, truth”. Applying that simplicity to my own mission I decided to adopt the phrase “In ludo, sperant” which translates to “In play, hope”.

My personal mission statement, “Changing the world through play”, has guided many of my decisions in the past few years as I’ve developed my identity as a Community Services Professional. It’s reminded me not to take things too seriously, laugh off the dings and dents, and most of all apply myself to the things I love doing. Those things –such as camping, hiking, exploring, road trips, playing electric guitar really loud, listening to music, playing games, bodysurfing, tennis, canoeing, fishing, reading, cooking, writing, recycling and learning about our planet– all seem to have at their root one thing: play.

If a simple pleasure such as wine can have so much depth to it– whether you consider the art of winemaking or the subtleties of tasting the finished product– then my own passion for play has no less depth.

One night I was playing music in a club with my band. I had given notice that this was my last show. I was moving on. The next day I was enrolled in my Master’s program with the intent to put childish playthings aside and get on with my serious career. I was studying to be a therapist. Funny thing though… The program was in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Depth Psychology which is a type of Jungian Psychology. If you know anything about Jung, he was all about synchronicity– things happening that had deeper meaning and connection to the bigger picture. I thought I was on a well-planned journey to begin a serious career as a therapist. I thought I had put aside music but found myself playing guitar in between classes and writing papers about the connection between psychological concepts and music.

When it came time to decide on my thesis I caved in to the theme that had been pulling me all along. I wrote about the parallel of musical improvisation with the work of psychotherapy. After I graduated I was even more deeply committed to music than I ever thought I could be. But it wasn’t music I was really committed to. I had been missing the point. What I was really interested in was improvisation. To put it simply, my unconscious self was wanting to play.

I let myself follow this path. Rather than take the state exam to be a Marriage Family Therapist, I committed myself to the field of Recreation. At the heart of the Parks & Recreation programs I was running lay little pearls of wisdom. I saw kids with serious personal and social interruptions come together and learn about themselves through the various games and activities we offered. Play therapy is real. I was witnessing the work of psychotherapy going on in the form of football, basketball, card games, relay races, dances, arts & crafts, etc. as well as the occasional fight that broke out. The only thing missing was the debriefing session at the end of these group interactions.

Play was opening up the soul to the world. But it was the improvisation that was going on within those activities that brought the soul out and let it run around in the spotlight. It is interesting to note that it takes a long time for a person to feel comfortable enough to bear their soul when they are asked to in the form of a therapy session. But when they get involved in a game or another improvised activity such as art, music, poetry and the like, the soul quickly and willingly comes out. When people let their guard down at times like these, you can really get to know them whether they want you to or not.

I wasn’t psychoanalyzing the people in my programs. Psychoanalysis takes real work. I was just providing a place for improvisation so they could open up and feel what it’s like to be who they are.

And that’s when I found myself. By asking myself “What is it that I love about what I’m doing?” I was able to find an answer that led me to my purpose.

Why am I so excited about going on a 15-hour road trip to Idaho? It’s an adventure where I’ll get to see a lot of new things and see some old friends that I haven’t been in touch with for awhile.

What am I looking forward to tomorrow so much that I can’t sleep tonight? I love the stock market and closely follow a handful of stocks that are on the verge of breaking out.

Why do I noodle for hours on my guitar at night when I could be sleeping? I’m on to a new riff that makes me feel like I’ve reached a new level of playing.

Why am I so excited to be typing away for hours on the computer? I can post something that I think will be important for my blog, which feeds my training consultancy, which ultimately feeds my purpose.

When I have something to look forward to that is related to my purpose, my life is exciting; it has tangible hope. There is nothing more validating than hope. Sure, achievement is pretty sweet but, once you run that triathlon you’ve been training months for, the emotional cliff is pretty steep, ending in a hard “now what?”. You can try to do it faster next time but there’s only so fast a person can go. If you’re seeking perfection, that’s another cliff. Ask yourself: “What was behind my goal in the first place?” I think you’ll find the answer to be that “It’s exciting to not know for sure where you are going or what will happen when you get there”.

The unknown is exciting. And that’s what play is all about– improvisation, the unknown– not knowing what notes your fingers are going to play next or not being 100% sure of how a football game is going to end. What is the most interesting thing to watch on TV? Sitcoms? No way! Sports and unscripted reality shows.

In life, we can plan and practice but we just don’t know the outcome until we’ve played the game to the end or played our 12 measures and gotten back the “A” section. The excitement we generate in the moment is the process of soul creation (a Depth Psychology concept) and that’s where we are truly alive.

Therefore, the evolution of my motto: In ludo, sperant. 

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