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What does it mean to play? Does anyone have a working definition of it? As someone who has played as an adult, I still find it hard to define. But one thing I have become more certain of is the sensation of being without play. That I can describe in some detail.
1: PRACTISE MAKES PLAY: Firstly, I believe play gives me something. I am at my most confident when I am playing and not consciously focusing on it. The lack of play has brought my attention to how stale I feel without a practise of play. This stale feeling applies to the skills I brought to my play practice. I feel the skills spoiling as they go unused, and where they once shouted for my attention they have dulled to an apathetic whisper. I feel the lack of play tangibly, but that lack isn’t as prioritized as the need to satisfy a lack of food, sleep or attention that needs to be paid to children. The staleness is condoned by all the elements around me, as in theory the more time I spend being a provider and mother is the more time I can identify as productive time.
"I believe playfulness is truthfulness.
And I choose to play"
2: JEALOUS MUCH? The second thing I have noticed is the jealousy I feel towards people in play. This jealousy is a subtle one, as it does not always manifest itself as anger. Sometimes it feels like an echo, an echo of the empty hole I have which refuses to be filled by anything other than the real thing. As an adult I have so many choices, means, opportunities and yet I can’t seem to put my finger on the button that chooses play. So I sit and watch people play on tv, play in the front garden, play in the middle of mealtimes, and a soft but tangible voice mumbles about the unfairness of it all.
3: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY: Thirdly, If I can overcome the first two hurdles, I am hit with an overwhelming sense of playtime being behind me. That it has been too long, too far behind to remember, that it would be too difficult to reconnect to that space.
In light of the three monster hurdles that appear in front of me, you would think that I would simply fill my time doing other things. But I cannot. This quarantine period has highlighted this for me as it highlights things for all of us. And I don’t think I am alone. We will step back into an altered society, which simply will not go back to “normal”. We are currently making individual and collective decisions whilst cocooned determining the type of person we choose to be when we re-emerge from the disparate chrysalis’ we inhabit. I am making a conscious choice to identify, connect with and use every Play opportunity I can find and take it with me. I will look to ways of destigmatizing the word, and wearing it as a badge of pride. I won’t dress it up in corporate jargon, because I believe playfulness is truthfulness. And I choose to play.
I read a very interesting book on play that was written in the 1920's a few years ago. A quote from the author Caldwell Cooke stand out in my mind to this day: If a child can’t find a way to satisfy his need for play officially, he will do it unofficially.
This book was about the importance of play for children, but we are seeing more and more data on the importance of play for adults. We know play reduces stress, improves brain function and improves our social interactions with others. Yet we do not always ring-fence time to play. I am starting to believe that play will manifest itself whether we ring-fence time for it or not.
Our modern distractions, or toys if you will are hand-held. Phones, tablets, beer bottles. These all give us an opportunity to slide into a parallel universe and explore a reality different to our own. And whilst creating that alternative reality in our imagination can be healthy,repressing the impulse to imagine, create and exist in any way spontaneously is detrimental to our well-being. Even the time-slot in which we generally yield to our urges is often late at night, when our batteries are worn down and we are giving the barest nourishment to a hunger that is ever present, and rarely satisfied.
Play isn't the evil twin of work. Structured play is a staple of all early-learning programmes these days, where young children are given the freedom to try out different forms of play, such as role-play or object-play(Lego or other building materials). Play is now being encouraged in Primary Schools. Having facilitated workshops in companies and with groups, I see first hand how liberated and transformed people are when they take part in structured games. They still learn, they just happen to have fun doing it at the same time. And they play when their energy levels are at their optimum. So rather than play being used as a device to switch off, we can have play as an essential tool for any group to switch on, engage and transform.
We need to stop ignoring play as an essential part of who we are. It resides within each one of us regardless. The only differentiating factor between us is the degree to which we honour that part of ourselves through regular play. I feel joy when I play. I feel joy when I see others at play. It is literally infectious and can raise the spirits in any room. And rather than segment it to a token "day", why not embed it in the way we go about our everyday lives? Regardless of our stage of life?
We all play unofficially, be it Netflix, Facebook, or another drug of choice. Wouldn't it be great if we destigmatized play and recognized it for the gift to everyday life it is?
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