“Existence, the physical universe, is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere.
It doesn’t have a destination that it ought to arrive at.
– Alan Watts

Lately, I’ve been greeted by the joyful music of songbirds and swallows that have returned after winter. It seems that, no matter where I look, the beauty that surrounds me as Spring shares her vibrancy inspires me with a heart-thrilling happiness!

As the weather warms, I’m invited to explore nature and play outside. I hope you are also finding moments to savor the return of color and signs of new life surrounding you, and as you pause, may those moments breathe joy and cheerfulness into your soul.

Brené Brown, Ph.D. says that if we want to live a wholehearted life, “we have to become intentional cultivating sleep and play, and let go of exhaustion as a status symbol of productivity and work.”

Okay, I’m the first to admit, I can take life a little too seriously some of the time and will often put in long hours at work. I’ll often report on the “busyness” of work when family and friends ask how I am. Although I don’t feel exhausted, it’s a deep realization to recognize where my energy leaks are since I’ve unconsciously been holding productivity as a measure of success.

[dt_quote type=”blockquote” font_size=”normal” animation=”none” background=”plain”]But a balanced, happy life requires an equal dose of laughter, sheer pleasure, and fun.[/dt_quote]

Play is, in fact, crucial for mental creativity, health and happiness. More play, according to many researchers, can help bring humor and light-heartedness personally and professionally, while stimulating curiosity and creativity too!

Unstructured play frees us to experience an open heart and mind in the interest of nothing at all.

Like art, play is that quintessential experience that is almost impossible to define. It encompasses infinite variability—but we all recognize it when we see or experience it. Unbound play inspires a sense of timelessness, freedom, joy and the sheer lightness of being.

Play is an evolutionary imperative for our health

Photo courtesy of ghatamos under Flickr Creative Commons. License.

In both animals and humans, play increases, rather than decreases, with increasing complexity of the brain. There is evidence that suggests the forces that initiate play lie in the ancient reptilian survival centers of the brain. Play appears to allow our brains to exercise their very flexibility, to maintain and even perhaps renew the neural connections that embody our human potential to adapt, to meet any possible set of environmental conditions.

Paradoxically, play doesn’t require an ego as we are fundamentally equipped for and need to play actively throughout our lifespan by nature’s design. Those of us who are playful can roll with the challenges of life and innovate through our play-inspired imaginations, helping our chances to better survive and thrive, while slowing the aging process!

Play Lifts Us from Stress

Play refreshes us and recharges us. It restores optimism and it changes our perspective, stimulating true intellectual curiosity. It renews our ability to accomplish our dreams and it may in fact be the highest expression of our humanity. Playfulness is not an act, but rather something that we are.

I found it thought-provoking that Dr. Stuart Brown has identified seven distinct patterns of play. They are:

  • Attunement play – the ground-base of the “state” of play that is characterized by a timelessness presence evidenced by a radiant smile, eye contact and rhythmic vocalizations – like laughter!
  • Body play and movement – engages our senses and biological intelligence by actively involving motion with pleasure allowing for exploratory learning.
  • Object play – curiosity about hand manipulation of objects correlates to richer brain circuits and helps us develop spatial intelligence and problem solving skills.
  • Social play – nurtures a sense of belonging, maintenance of social awareness, cooperation, fairness and altruism, as well as celebratory and ritual connections with others. Rough and tumble play teaches us the give-and-take necessary for social mastery.
  • Imaginative and pretend play – fosters innovation and creativity as well as coping skills. This allows us to explore simulated realities without losing touch with reality – key to emotional intelligence, empathy and compassion.
  • Storytelling-Narrative play – helps us to make sense of the world we live in and particularly one’s place, giving us permission to expand our own inner stream of consciousness often with humor.
  • Transformative-Integrative and Creative play – fantasy play transcends ordinary reality and inspires a process to germinate new ideas and shape and re-shape them.

These forms of play help us to become whole in body, mind and heart.

[dt_quote type=”blockquote” font_size=”normal” animation=”none” background=”plain”]Real play interacts with and involves the outside world, while fundamentally expressing the needs and desires of the player.[/dt_quote]

Authentic play emerges from deep inside and is not formed or motivated solely by others. Playfulness, when cultivated, opens each of us to undiscovered aspects of innate potential, joy and happiness while having fun.

What Does Play Have To Do with Rest?

Today’s lifestyles are filled ” must do’s” and “have to do’s” no matter if you are a working professional, a mom or a student. Society, school, the corporate world and even sports promote an achieving mind-set and lifestyle. Yet, we were born to flourish in a liminal, in-between space that also includes allowance and permission to simply be exactly who we are. After all, we are human beings, not human doings.

When we are playing, we allow downtime for the conscious brain. There is big medicine in connecting with Dr. Quiet and allowing room to exist as playful, engaged beings.

As I acknowledge my needs for more unstructured play in my life, I’m motivated to accept the gift of precious playtime, exploring my own innate playfulness. I appreciate my limits and honor the necessities of freeing myself from self-defeating ideas of success.

I encourage you to tune in to yourself without judgment and see what you truly need and what kind of play truly nourishes your body, mind and soul.

You can start that process by considering these questions:

  • How often do you make time for rest and play?
  • Do you only rest when exhausted?
  • Do you think play is only for children?
  • Do you allow yourself inward time without feeling you are being self-indulgent?
  • Have you ever even thought about your belief systems around work, play, and rest?

As you surrender to the rich fullness of your play experience, join me in celebrating your choice to play with laughter, lightheartedness, fun and happiness!

Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection. Hazelden.
Brown, S. (2010). Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Avery Trade.
DeKoven, B. (2014). A Playful Path. ETC Presss. www.deepfun.com
Forencich, F. (2011). Exuberant Animal Play Book. Exuberant Animal.
Pink, D. (2009). A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future. Brilliance Audio.

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