Monday, October 19, 2015

The Joys of Play!

Step out of ordinary time and let go of self-consciousness

Spontaneity, Freedom, and Renewal

I am a woman who loves to play. It's true that I did have a serious play deficit during part of my adult life, even quite a significant part of my adult life, but now that I am older and wiser, I have relaxed back into being playful--thank goodness. 

Grownups are far too serious and inhibited. Elders included.

It would do all of us good to be more playful because playing lifts us out of seriousness and self-consciousness, giving us a no-cost vacation from mundane concerns that preoccupy us much of the time.

Play sets us free in a beautiful open field, where we have a chance to express ourselves spontaneously.

Things happen when we play that don't happen in other situations. In the midst of playing, we lose some or all of our usual self-consciousness and step into another, more timeless way of being. Play is pleasurable and invigorating. It's full of information about ourselves and others that comes in refreshing, even surprising ways.

People don't all play the same way of course. We have different play personalities or styles, or a mixture of several of them. Here are eight play styles.

Eight Play Personalities

There's the Joker, who loves being silly, the Mover who loves dancing and sports, the Explorer who loves new places, whether they are physical, emotional or physical, the Competitor who loves playing to win, the Director, who loves planning and creating events and projects, the Collector who loves gathering interesting or beautiful objects, the Artist who loves making things and the Storyteller, who enjoys creating an imaginative world with stories or other artforms.

What play styles appeal to you?  I am fond of the Joker, Explorer, Director, Artist and Storyteller, with a good appreciation for the Mover. I have limited involvement with the Collector and the Competitor. What about you?

Medical doctor Stuart Brown wrote a wonderful book titled  Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Brown suggests that when we reminisce about positive play experiences from childhood it can give us information about our emotional profile and what truly excites us in life.

What kind of play did you love as a child? What are some of your positive memories about great play times?

I remember doing a workshop titled Playfulness and the Pleasures of Aging at the Sage-ing International Conference in 2012.  I asked the 20 people who took part in the group to consider their childhood play experiences and to choose one that remains vivid to them. The responses were wonderful--running the gamut from tender and mystical to liberating and whimsical. One man spoke about how few positive play experiences occured during his childhood in Germany in the midst of war. But he recalled picking wildflowers and sitting with his sister making crowns from them. Weaving and wearing those crowns was a memorable moment of play and connection for him. Another person told of being raised in an oppressive atmosphere in an orphanage, and how he looked forward to throwing off his clothes and running into a lake at the end of each day. A woman spoke of a numinous dream of being underwater and the influence it had on her life. We went on to play some improvisational games together. By the time the group was over, I think all of us understood the truth of what Plato said long ago, when he wrote, "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."

Not only can you discover more about another person, you can also discover a lot about yourself that you would never learn from other types of pursuits. Because in play, we are free to express parts of ourselves that often have no other kind of outlet.

Is it scary to be silly?

Even though I loved playing jokes from a young age, and even though I had a father who took great delight in talking with many accents while inventing a variety of very funny characters, I often thought being silly was kind of scary. After all, kids or adults could make fun of you, ridicule you or laugh at you. It took me a few decades and a fair amount of experimentation and healing work, but these days I am generally comfortable with being silly.

Being silly is really a lot of fun. It's freeing to let go of being so darned grown up, armored by the need to control our established image of ourselves. I know that when I am silly, it gives other people permission to be silly, too.

Of course, Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin have permission to be silly. They are professional funny people. But we can give ourselves permission to let go and explore what form of silliness lives in us, too. What are your silly aspects? Do they have names? Do you talk with them?  You know, we all have a bevy of characters and archetypes within us, and being silly is one way to get to know them better and give them a chance to have their say.

In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play. ---Friedrich Nietzsche  (and that goes for women, too!)

The Magical Aspects of Play

For this child from the Omo tribe, elaborately beautiful makeup  includes many elements from the natural world, and carries meaning within the tribe.  In our culture, Halloween and Mardi Gras are often the only times we dress up or change our faces to present another character, persona or archetype, and these dress-ups we do in our culture are of course quite different from the Omo ways. But they are what we have to start with. It is wonderful to explore archetypes and personas with ceremonial makeup.

I have been wanting to play with others using ceremonial makeup, movement, voice, improv games and deep relaxation. I have been calling this program Free as a Bird Frolics. I would love to see this develop into a retreat of 2-3 days, either in a retreat setting in Ashland or in other locations. Right now, I am offering it for 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon.

So far, however, the tribe of players has not responded to the call. This is a bit sad of course, because it would be great fun to play together. But on the other hand it just may not be the right time, or I may not have gotten the hang of how to let others know about what I am offering, or it may be that this program is something for me to let go of.  It's good to remember that all of life is a creative exploration. Success and failure are rather static, blocky words for what is really quite a playful enterprise. It all becomes clear as we go along the path. I continue to be playful in my life, and welcome the opportunity to play with other dear humans, in whatever way the play manifests.

So if you want to play, let me know. I am sending good energy waves to you, energy waves, the play of cosmic forces.....
Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there. -- Miles Davis


  1. It might be due to childhood but playing is just something I am not good at and find myself uncomfortable being around someone else who is being silly. I like to laugh and joke but that's not being silly or playing. Even as a child, my play was making up stories with like frontier sets of figures or drawing other worlds with my own paper dolls. Having older parents who discouraged being silly might be a factor in my today. I don't know. I get embarrassed by people trying so hard to be funny when it doesn't come naturally to them and frankly although I like comedies, I don't like slapstick. Maybe for the same reason. It is possible that by my age, 72, I just need to settle for being who I am and accept being 'fun' isn't in the cards for me as I can't really make a fool out of myself for someone else's pleasure-- not on purpose anyway ;)

  2. My play as a child typically did not consciously or intentionally include silliness but I've always enjoyed play within the concept of creating a character outside of myself. Silliness in that way makes sense and has continued to be enjoyable throughout my life. Come to think of it, silliness with each of my children and more recently entering into the imaginary world my preschool grandson likes to create and direct is fun. Play for me is not always about silliness but encompasses freely expressing my imagination's concoctions.

  3. Thanks for your comments here....there are many forms of play, and we all have the chance to choose ones that suit us or push the envelope of what we are familiar with. Don't leave the playfulness to the children or now--the grandchildren...

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