follow the flow
a travel journal and photography journey
Don’t be rough. No violence. Play nice. These are a few things I know many of us heard as kids. Or as adults, have told kids when we were concerned that they would hurt each other. But being rough, experiencing discomfort or pain, and playing to win are a few of the ways that humans can learn resilience, learn strategy, learn limitations, and, can have a lot of fun.
I learned the reality of this when I attended a workshop called Roughhousing: Connecting to a Lost Art, while at Envision Festival last month. It was one of the only workshops that I made a point to make it to. When I saw the title, the first thing that happened in me was EXCITEMENT. Clearly there was and is something about what that term evokes that is connected to a childlike and visceral sense of play. So I trusted this instinct, and I went.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single person in the workshop was smiling from beginning to end. Because humans love physical contact. We NEED physical contact for our survival. And what became apparent from the get-go, and even more so by the minute, was that nourishing physical contact is not just of the soft and gentle kind, it can also be of the rough and competitive kind.
When the workshop began with an active and physically experimental version of contact improvisation, it was clear that the point was to connect with each other, and to get out of our comfort zone. Usually in physical workshops, I notice an emphasis on the “correct way” to do something so that people don’t get hurt. And while the facilitator in this workshop was always aware of whether or not someone was demonstrating serious risk, there was much more emphasis on “try it and figure it out yourself.” Essentially, we were re-learning the benefits of experimenting with no promise of getting it right. And ultimately re-discovering what felt good, safe and fun for us individually.
The exercises in the workshop were games that stimulated the same kind of active creativity once experienced on the playground. The games had both enough challenge and enough possibility that everyone had a chance of winning and losing. Everyone had a chance to discover their strengths and weaknesses. Everyone had a chance to claim what felt good and what felt like it was too much. I felt like we were all a version of those dogs you see playing in the park—they are tumbling and barking and nipping at each others necks and tails, and it looks like they are fighting…but they are having the time of their lives! They are learning useful strategies and forming relationships all at once.
I was reminded through this workshop that external stimuli that creates internal struggle—whether through the body, mind or emotions—is extremely beneficial for growth. This is how we build muscle, how we strengthen our immune system, how we build relationships based in truth, how we learn integrity and sense of self. The experiences that I recall from my life that were the most painful, the most uncomfortable, the most cringeworthy, the most challenging, were the ones that I consistently refer back to as the moments where I learned my most important lessons. And the moments where I learned how to stand up for my values and my needs.
The end of the workshop was this delightful wind-down in pairs where we massaged each other—because playing rough is great, and finding balance between the rough and the soft is essential. During the wind-down, instead of executing a typical massage, we told each other specifically what we like. The guy I was with liked a quick and hard beating of my fists to loosen his muscles. I liked soft squishy hands moving my body around like jello-o. So I did just that, and he did just that: this beautiful balance of the rough and the soft.
There is an aspect to this work that challenges boundaries, and challenges the belief that acts of physical aggression, and especially male physical aggression, is toxic. I’m no expert, but I am intrigued by what I experienced that day: no Hatred, or Anger, or Intent to Harm... I experienced only Joy, Respect, Communication, Creativity, Empathy, Connection. I think it’s incredibly worthwhile for human health and wellness to rekindle a relationship with the ways we used to instinctively play when we were kids. To allow ourselves the opportunity to get messy, find our boundaries, find our voice, find our edges, and find our play. There can be risk involved...but without the risk, so much opportunity is lost.
*The facilitator of the workshop is Rafe Kelley, and you can find more information on him and the work he does here!