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Playtime: The Discovery of Lightness


Dr. Rebekka Reinhard is a philosopher, author, and speaker based in Munich. She is the vice-editor of Hohe Luft magazine. 

Almost like an oracle, one can ask her anything and she will spontaneously come up with clever knowledge and deep cultural reflection. I asked her about playfulness in work, the meaning of Wu-wei, and transcendental moments of lift-off. 

Written for Organics magazine, this interview originally appeared in German in 2020. Image used with kind permission by Tanja Kernweiss.




Dr. Reinhard, is talent overrated?

I think if you want to be happy at work and enjoy your professional life, then you should choose a job that you are talented for. However, this should not be confused with the term potential, a mistake that is made all too often these days. When someone paints a well-done picture of a flower, the immediate insinuation is: ‘Whoa, you have talent!’ What this usually means is that there is potential for the next painting to be a still life on a large canvas in the style of the Dutch masters.

Do you mean that talent is immediately linked to an external expectation of increasing success?

Right. We are such a meritocratic and success-oriented society that we view any potential like stock values ​​on the stock exchange. It always means future success. This is not the same as talent. Talent is an ability you were born with, a gift of genes, a gift of nature. Developing this ability ultimately has a lot to do with self-responsibility and discipline. This applies to the fine arts, but also to “completely normal” professions. As a keynote speaker and book author, I can say from my own experience: It’s 5% talent and 95% hard work.

Is the development of a certain talent also a prerequisite for a fulfilling life?

If you are not a Buddhist, then you must realize that we only have this one life and that life is finite. And then think: how much of our lives do we spend working? Whether employed or freelance, we all hustle between work-life and zoom conferences with hardly any time limits. But if I additionally work in a job that I have no natural inclination for, then the question arises as to whether my life can actually be as successful when viewed as a whole. Because then I also miss out on these moments of happiness, in which I use my unique talent and develop it.

Taoism, a school of wisdom from China, cultivates the strategy of Wu-wei: doing without intention. Can we learn from the ancient Chinese?

The Chinese characters for Wu-wei literally mean: In doing nothing, nothing remains undone. If I first wait and see how things develop and – very importantly – practice patience, I can see in which direction a situation is going in a much more energy-efficient manner. Maybe even in my favor! In doing so, I step into the background as a singular heroic subject and can make friends with the external circumstances and thus resonate with the world. According to the philosopher Lao Tzu, this is the true proactive approach, because I actively wait for the problem at hand to be solved for me. This way of thinking is also found in all Asian martial arts. That’s how I emerge as the winner without having tried too hard – with ease.

How important is it to be playful with life instead of seeing it as a mixture of cramp and struggle?

What I’m saying may sound paradoxical, but adopting a playful attitude with corresponding ease in life is the result of many years of work and discipline. I don’t want to resolve this contradiction at all, because I believe that life is extremely paradoxical anyway. There is no happiness without the experience of unhappiness, and no enjoyment without the experience of renunciation. Without the bone-hard work of the ballerina, there would be no ballet performance full of playful-looking lightness. But it is precisely this moment of floating that opens up a space of possibilities in which one can really breathe. And best of all: Lightness and playfulness also make people human.

Does this also apply to the lightness of living in general?

This playful attitude also allows us to look at ourselves ironically. A playful attitude towards the world means taking life’s problems seriously, but also not taking them too seriously – in a manner that resembles a dance. After all, everything is relative. What is my life in relation to the universe? I’m a tiny filament that can burn out at any time. Given that fact, why shouldn’t I be able to go through life with ease? I think this attitude of lightness also gives me the courage to dare something that I haven’t exactly calculated beforehand. And I don’t even think that you need a special talent for this ease (laughs).


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Hohe Luft Magazin (in German)

TEDxTalk in English by Dr. Reinhard on The Absurd, at Heidelberg University