On Quitting

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.


  1. Lily Belland on November 4, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Sometimes knowing you have the choice gives a person the freedom to keep playing. Not everyone knows that they have a choice about everything. Whether they smile or frown, laugh or cry, live or not. Those of us who know, know the power of choice and what good things can come from simply choosing the one that works for us.

    Love and laughter,

    • Bernie DeKoven on November 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm

      So for those of us who are teaching the game (regardless of what game it is), it is useful to know that we have the choice to present the game in such a way as to make the players’ choices more obvious, accessible. We can, for example, have more than one game available to them. We can make sure the boundaries are clear so that people can easily choose between playing and not playing. We can be funny so people know that they don’t have to take the game seriously. We can give people the opportunity to change rules or make up their own variations so that they know the rules are fluid, open to change….

      Sometimes we need to exercise our ability to choose. Which is why I recommend “quitting practice.”

  2. Jennifer on June 22, 2015 at 11:40 am

    This quitting practice is powerful on so many levels. My youngest daughter would be freed up to play until she stopped having fun, which is usually much sooner than the rest of us (because she likes to win and wants to quit when she isn’t), but without shame or judgment, if the rest of us embraced the right to quit more freely. I wonder if it would help her be less concerned about the winning or losing over time? We aren’t as invested in who wins, but she is. I hate that it keeps her from enjoying games as a general rule. We’re going to try quitting more often!

    Thank you for sharing how this right to quit extends to life itself. That is the biggest game of all, and the most precious one. And it is so hard for us to let ourselves or others quit. It seems to be so tied to notions of failure. It is dignified and dignifying to view it as exercising power of choice.

    Thank you Bernie. And blessings to Rocky’s mom where ever she may be playing now!
    Love, Jen

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