On Quitting

by Bernard De Koven on July 4, 1998

During our weeklong, Deep Fun workshops, we always make it the rule that people can quit, whenever they want to, without apology or explanation (unless we’re playing something like Human Pyramids and they’re at the bottom – then they have to give at least a 10 second notice).

Usually by the second or third hour of the workshop, we conduct an hour of “Quitting Practice.” People are encouraged to try quitting even when they don’t feel especially like quitting, just so they can feel what it’s like, and so we can establish the practice and permission.

We go to these great lengths because of the nature of play, itself.

Play is something you do because you want to. You can’t be forced to play. You can’t be obliged to play. You can’t be shamed into, begged to, wheedled or needled to. It’s something that you do out of the depths of whim and whimsy, something that you do because you are free, and free not to.

So, if you want to get people to play, and play freely and fully, establishing the permission to quit is clearly a necessary step in guaranteeing the freedom to play and maintaining the quality of the play experience.

Recently (August 6, 2001), my mother-in-law has been teaching us a lot about the freedom to quit. She’s 84, and for the last month or so she’s been refusing to eat or drink. In the last few days, the refusal has become increasingly more adamant.

Whenever anyone offers her something, she clamps her mouth shut tight. We’ve tried everything. Rocky, my wife, will sit with her for hours, using a straw to drop water into her mouth. Lately, even that doesn’t work.

Despite her children’s love, despite the advances of medical science, she has come to the conclusion that her fun lies in some other game than the living one.

My mother-in-law’s refusal to eat or drink is her affirmation of the freedom to quit, and, in like manner, her affirmation of the fundamental joy of being alive. At some level beyond reason, she has recognized that things just aren’t fun enough, that she simply and clearly just doesn’t want to play any more.

It is undeniably painful to be part of this. Despite my many years of teaching and practicing the art of quitting, it is only now that I understand why the permission to quit is so much a part of the play experience.

And only now that I am beginning to be willing to extend that same permission to life itself.

I embrace you. I let you go.

A Playful Path photoA playful path is the shortest road to happiness.
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