My six-year-old recently asked me if being a grown-up was very boring because you never get to play. I explained that some grown ups don't play any more but that most of us do it all the time; it just looks different. We talked about what is the most fun kind of playing, and agreed that it's those times where you come up with an idea to do something that you end up doing for a really long time and it seems like you are in another world while you're doing it. You get lost in your imagination. Kids instinctively look for those experiences through play; they tirelessly try new activities until they hit on something that's absorbing. They are always looking to lose themselves. I think we do the same thing as grown-ups, with work, relationships, and hobbies. But we tire more easily and accept mindless substitutes and mental shortcuts more readily. If we become accustomed to accepting those substitutes too regularly and make them our daily habits, we begin to lose our ability to play, but we don't need to.
One of the keys to maintaining that sense of imagination and playfulness is maintaining a certain amount of detachment from your own life. There is a series of wonderful images in the Tao Te Ching that has always stuck with me:
Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful. ...
I think of the details of my life as necessary structures to house what is really its essence, and like I am always working on hollowing out the spaces in my daily routine to give space for reflection and creativity. It is only when I make the space to play inside of these activities that my genuine self can infuse them. But by infusing them, they still never become any more permanent or irreplaceable.
It's important to recognize that the shape of my daily life and all of the people and activities that populate it are just one of an infinite array of possibilities, and that as pieces of the structure inevitably fade or wear away and need to be replaced, what is important to remaining vital is that whatever life's circumstances may be, I can always craft them into a shape in which they provide a structure, however rich or shabby, with enough space in it that I can still play.