Toronto. 2013. Age 25.
I was taking everything so seriously that I stopped getting boners and considered putting a bullet in my brain.
I was working as the vice president of an advertising agency, the co-founder of a startup in the gaming industry, and was training intensely ten or more times each week.
I wanted to serve my clients, launch a successful company and attain financial freedom. I wanted to achieve a one-arm handstand, a one-arm chin-up and a 400-pound squat. I wanted to be at my peak every moment of my life.
I was going to bed early, so that I could wake up early. I had amazing friends, but it became difficult to share quality time with them. After all, I had to rise at 7 a.m. to work on my handstand. And, I had to ensure that I had proper nutrition and sleep to get the most out of my training.
If I was tired, I had to push through and work harder. There’s no such thing as overtraining. There’s only undertraining, I thought. Plus, I don’t deserve more rest. I spend eight to ten hours per day at a standing desk. That’s rest enough, I told myself, ignoring the fact that I was orchestrating client advertising strategies and trying to launch a startup during those hours.
While I ate, I listened to educational and self-development podcasts. When I had openings in my schedule, I read books, or I trained strength and mobility for a third time that day. All so that I could do more, accomplish more, and be more.
* * *
I grew up a serious child. Two defining moments at age five contributed to my seriousness:
One afternoon, I was playing with a toy Ferrari and a police car, and I thought to myself, this can’t be all there is. Why do people care so much about material things? Why aren’t we always asking ourselves, "What are we doing here? How did we get here? What's the point of it all?"
From that day onward, I was immersed in existential contemplation. Material objects didn’t excite me much, and I couldn’t stop wondering why people talked about the weather instead of the universe. This was both a serious and enjoyable endeavor.
Months later, on a hot summer’s eve, my parents were arguing. My dad stood in the garage while my mom stood inside the kitchen with the door open to the garage.
“I don’t want you to go golfing tonight,” my mom said.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be back before dark,” my dad replied.
“No. I want you to stay home and look after the kids. I need a break.”
“I’ve been working at the hospital all day, and I need to unwind.”
“You don’t get it. I’ve been with the kids all day, taking care of the house all day, and running your office all day.”
“I’ll be home before dark,” my dad said as he got into his car and pulled out the driveway.
“You’re an asshole!” my mom screamed as she slammed the door and came inside the house crying.
My parents don’t know how to communicate with one another, and my baby brother’s too young to understand. I need to hold this family together, I resolved. From that day forward, I took on the responsibility to do so. This was a serious endeavor, and not an enjoyable one.
The existential contemplation, responsibility and seriousness continued throughout elementary and high school, and into university. As I developed a deeper understanding for media dissemination and the way our governments lie to and manipulate us, the world became an increasingly serious place.
I played sports, but I put a ton of pressure on myself to perform. I hung out with friends, but I was always a little on edge. I only felt truly present and relaxed if I was drunk or high, which became experiences I sought out most weekends.
The only dream persisting from my youth was to write a book that I thought was awesome. I imagined it’d be a brilliant work of fiction.
I don’t think anyone would have thought I was unhappy. I did have many fun experiences. It’s just that I was always in my head.
The first time I really played was when I was 22, after seeing Avatar. That film had a profound impact on me: I went from seeing the world as interconnected, dark and competitive to interconnected, loving and beautiful. Some of my friends jokingly refer to Avatar as my enlightenment. After seeing it, I felt so inspired, so energized, and I even danced for the first time. Dance has been an integral part of my life ever since.
At the start of 2012, I began training with world-renowned movement teacher Ido Portal. Ido has a better understanding of movement and physicality than anyone I’ve come across, and his ability to move his body seems only limited by his imagination. I was captivated by his teachings, which covered disciplines such as gymnastics, weightlifting, rock climbing, speed, martial arts, dance, hand balancing, injury prevention, Parkour, acrobatics, falling, mobility, swimming, awareness, consciousness, and more.
Ido talked about play and the idea that one of movement’s purposes is to facilitate greater enjoyment. But I didn’t embody the play part of it. I loved movement, but I ignored the play. Instead, I embodied the obsession, which culminated in addiction. Eventually, my body (and soul) became so run down that my strength all but disappeared.
I would sleep ten or twelve hours each night, and still the sound of my morning alarm clock felt like some sick joke. Each time it buzzed, I could’ve sworn I had only closed my eyes moments before. I wasn’t feeling the slight bit rested.
As I mentioned earlier, my erections were few and far between. I could muster them with effort, but I certainly wasn’t waking with morning wood. The lack of libido and vigour combined with exhaustion had me questioning whether life was worth living.
The breaking point came one weekend in February, 2013. I had started a workout that included 25 repetitions of front squats with 225 pounds. I couldn’t even lift the weight once. The following night, I was making love with a beautiful woman, and I couldn’t stay hard. As I lay awake with the woman asleep beside me, I resolved: if I can’t start feeling like myself again within two years, I’m going to end my life.
I was contemplating suicide. But, I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet.
Shortly thereafter, I consulted with a natural health practitioner named Lovedeep, who asked me questions about every aspect of my life.
“Michael, I think you should play more,” Lovedeep said.
I knew he was right.
In conjunction with a daily meditation practice, I started to play. I danced more, I started rock climbing and doing Parkour, and I hung out with my friends more often. I went on adventures around the city — walking, hiking, jumping, smelling flowers, hugging trees, and exploring areas I had previously taken for granted — and generally allowed myself to engage in activities simply for the sake of enjoyment.
By August 2013, I was feeling much better, and I went to Burning Man for the first time. In case you’re unfamiliar, Burning Man is a utopic and transformative eight-day festival in Black Rock Desert, Nevada. Burning Man deserves a book of its own, but in a nutshell, it is perhaps the ultimate form of play, and the manifestation of human potential.
Imagine mystical mountains, a pristine blue sky, and a hot sun serving as the backdrop of a home for 70,000 people who harmoniously co-exist in a vast and rugged desert landscape. These tens of thousands of people communicate on a telepathic wavelength and are all trying to enhance one another’s experience. The compounding effect of these people’s efforts is so transformative and magical that it can change a person forever. It doesn’t matter what you’re seeking, you will find it, and typically, you will do so instantaneously. Whether you want a kiss from a beautiful woman, to go on a psychedelic adventure, to hear the sounds of dolphins and whales, to cruise the nighttime desert on a 70-foot long mechanical dragon who breathes fire as the bass drops from its elaborate sound system, to eat sushi and a frozen coconut, or to dance to the sunrise while listening to your favourite DJ broadcast music from a perfectly engineered sound system affixed to a double-decker bus that’s covered in profound visionary art while elegant lasers bathe you and a thousand new friends in a euphoria you didn’t know possible, you will find it, and it will find you.
Most people experience feelings of astonishment, awe, disbelief, transcendence, love, peace, magic and miracles. The sense of love and home I felt at Burning Man was something I had been longing for my entire life without realizing it. I left Burning Man with a light-heartedness, playfulness, and boundlessness that have been growing ever since, and I keep going back year after year.
My life became less regimented, and I became more spontaneous. I’ve always considered myself an explorer, but now the explorations feel less serious: equally, if not more, profound, but less serious.
In December 2013, I ventured down to Peru to trek through the Amazon rainforest and to partake in three shamanistic ceremonies with the sacred and psychedelic plant medicine known as Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca shattered my previous paradigm of reality and showed me something so far beyond my wildest imagination that now informs my entire way of being. It showed me that the fabric of our universe is love. Love is the creative force responsible for all things. It's responsible for the Big Bang and its predecessors; every work of art: every painting, every song, every written word; it's responsible for the propagation of species, the division of cells, and the explosion of stars. Love is the child who cries, the bird that soars, and the grass that grows through the pavement. Love is infinite and everywhere. It’s what we’re made of. To know this filled me with a deep sense of peace.
My experience with the plant medicine helped me realize that I am enough. I don’t need to do more or be more. Already, I am enough. The experience also showed me that everything is a choice. In each moment, I have the freedom to choose. There’s no reason to perceive anything as an obligation. For example, I might think I need to take out the trash, but actually, I don’t have to. I could let the trash accumulate inside. Or, I could choose to take it to the curb. I am not obliged. I am free.
Ayahuasca encouraged me to fulfill my lifelong desire to write a book. Not long after, I released Ayahuasca: An Executive’s Enlightenment.
And, Ayahuasca encouraged me to play more. Play is a celebration of life. It is the acknowledgement that what I am now is enough. I now play every day as an act of celebration. I play every day as an act of gratitude for this life I get to experience, this life I get to live.
Today, my life revolves around play, and my prime directive is enjoyment. While I do work and endure struggles — emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually — I enjoy all of it.
I enjoy the work I do. It fulfills me on a deep level. I enjoy the struggles. Perspective is important here: if I can observe my struggles rather than succumb to them, I can appreciate and enjoy the experience of the struggle. I can appreciate and enjoy the fact that I get to experience struggles at all.
This enjoyment is supported by the deep trust I have that everything works out. Throughout my entire life, I’ve survived. I’ve made it until now. If you’re reading this, so have you. And, we’ll probably both make it to tomorrow. So, we might as well celebrate that fact and play. Even if we die, we might as well celebrate and play, because death is probably awesome too, and any struggles we’re having now will be washed away by death.
Play can be many things. For me, it often involves movement. But it can involve stillness too — like lying on my bed or in the grass, simply enjoying my being. Now I’m able to enjoy doing nothing.
Beyond the enjoyment component, play rejuvenates and inspires, and in the long run, facilitates productivity. Without play, I would burn out. With play, everything is enjoyable, and I feel infinitely capable.
Play brings me into the present moment. Play helps me realize there’s nothing more we need. There’s nothing to want for. By simply doing the things that excite me the most, my life has transformed – and I bet yours would too.
Enjoy, celebrate, and play every day.