Human life has largely been stripped of true, free play.
For adults, the word play has almost negative associations, as if frivolous. Relegated to a domain of less importance, while work has been elevated, has a kind of sanctity to it.
The truth is that the human spirit is made to play.
Playful by Nature
When we were children, self-directed play happened naturally. We explored, we found out, and we felt what it was like to be in our human bodies.
Play happens almost the moment we’re out of the womb. Babies flow for hours on end just looking at their fists, putting their toes in their mouths, etc. Exploring and discovering.
Later on, it becomes more obvious how imagination laces and saturates what young ones are experiencing as they play. They hold an ordinary twig up to us, enchanted, then cradle it like a baby, then put it in a bed made of sand.
Play lives in a world where a thing is never only a thing, but has many other harmonics, octaves of potency, and meaning. Play is rich and rewarding, full of the resonances of a unified, loving realm, that has more connection, creativity, and impact.
We are part of Nature’s Play
Nature is playful, full of frivolity. Animals play, and nature herself plays, with flowers, with weather patterns, with the creation of the shapes of the world we inhabit. Everything changes, all the time, in ceaseless flow. Dancing, playing, experimenting, expressing.
And we, as part of nature, also play. Nature gave us a gift for open-ended, agenda-less play. Play is one of the core features of a human spirit, and all that is natural, undefined and open-ended in our world.
Free play means we are free. Free to make our own choices without direction or control, without pre-definition from someone else. Free to find out on our own terms, as the results of our own moves. Play empowers us.
Play is Rehearsal for Life
Animals play at fighting, hunting, and building before they grow into adults. We do this too, by instinct. We pretend to be adults doing adult activities – cooking, feeding babies, building houses – until such time as we are.
In our creative lives, you could say we pretend, try out, and try on being artists before we become them. Education has shown that children have an easier time learning when a game is made of a learning objective and when a sense of fun and joy is introduced to the skill acquisition process. Play is the rehearsal of real-life skills.
All of the art therapies and play therapy itself demonstrate the ways in which play is also healing.
Play answers what’s missing in the psyche. The right to joy, laughter, and self-created pleasure. The right to connect, to integrate, to flow.
When you play, you don’t need anything else. Play is its own reward, its own answer, its own satisfaction, an alpha and omega completion in its own self.
Sadly, as adults, we are often scared to play. Scared to look foolish, scared to open up a pandora’s box of shame, inadequacy, or anxiety.
But we can slowly, gently restore our right to play, with recognition for the pain and damage we all carry around the right to be ourselves in this way, to use our nature-given instinct to play.
Journal to Recover Your Play Powers
- Identify a memory of a time when you free-played as a child. You may have been alone, guiding yourself, or you may have made up games with other children. What can you recall, that you especially enjoyed as a child?
An example from my own life: my four siblings and I used to climb a big old oak tree. We pretended that each of its branches were different rooms in our “house”. We designated a living room, our bedrooms, and a kitchen, where we made pretend meals out of smashed acorns and little stones.
Last weekend on a trip home to the place I grew up, I recently saw this same old oak tree again, still alive though decades older. I noticed I still feel a very strong emotional connection to it, as one of the many living beings in my life who have offered me a sense of home.
What about you, what can you recall from the times in your life when play was allowed? What riches came to you through the portal of play?
Is there any area of your life now, where you might invite a spirit of play to meet you, once again? Your play powers are yours to recover.