A Cry Out for Play

Photograph by Roger Ahlbrand

Photograph by Roger Ahlbrand

Remember a time when you would run home from school, with excitement and anticipation, you’d drop your bag at the front door, without caring for contents or walkways, maybe scream a “hello” to a parent, and run out to get on your bike, grab your jump rope, sidewalk chalk, basketball, football, or mitt.  Or, jump into puddles or pools or sprinklers, running out to a field to climb a tree, making mud pies, playing dress up, or constructing elaborate routes for your train tracks or empires of legos. Do you remember immersing yourself in a world with elaborate stories of your imagination?  You are the star athlete, the artist that travels into the pictures you create, the race you are about to win, the delving into the world of bugs, the playing of house or magically becoming a wizard or fireman or animal.  It's the  becoming a creator of a world that takes you on a ride, suddenly and completely forgetting everything else.

When is the last time you experienced this?  Remember how incredible it felt to be in that suspended disbelief?  Or how it felt to emerge out of this place, knowing that there are two places in which you can live, the day-to-day “reality” and the world you create, powerfully real in itself.

As we grow older, in adulthood or even starting as early as the teenage years, our ability to move in and out of these magical and captivating spaces has been lost.  Instead, we immersed ourselves into the world of work ethic, getting things done that need to/should be done.  Which, of course, is an important and necessary part of adulthood.  Yet, I cannot help but wonder if this is healthy or helpful to us.  Does the loss of play leave us ill-equipped to deal with the modern world?  Does it leave us more vulnerable to mental and physical illness?  Does it leave us less socialized and unable to creatively problem-solve?

Play is not something just children do.  With and without rules, play invites us to learn about ourselves, about who we want to be and how we come to see ourselves in the world.

Through play we also engage in a process of discovery.  We can come to AH-HA! moments that reveal what we are capable of!  From tumbling about on the grass and realizing our ability to do a headstand or pin our brother to the ground to playing with a kite and key and discover electricity!   Play can reveal our strength, courage, and what we are meant to do in this world.  It can help lead us to our purpose.

Additionally, play helps us cope with the reality of the world, balance challenges with joy.  Even more, play can help us connect. Think of what could happen if we find ways of playing that creates inter-generational, cross gender and cross-cultural collaboration?

I recall a medicine walk I went on, stepping into ceremony and met with incredible hardships and unpredictability.  I did not know my intention until I walked onto the land, I wished to mark my adulthood, to step into my growing up and my maturity.  It seemed that nothing was working out: from difficulty finding the planned trail to bumping into car trouble.  The medicine walk ended on a well populated lake.  I found my little nook on the lake, when two children came to play along the shoreline where I sat.  Both with sticks in hand and one was dressed in costume.  I listened in on them creating their game as they played.  Each child declaring new rules and the other quickly and easily complying, collecting branches twice their height. 

My intention seemed laughable at that moment.  Marking adulthood, my anger growing when things did not go as expected, and trying to adjust to the new rules of the game.  Marking adulthood is important and necessary but can also invite in a rigidity that is not necessary and can lead us to get stuck in one aspect of our human nature, not recognizing the balance and cycles of who we are, not able to go with the flow of newly introduced rules and ways.  To play is to participate in life, to adapt to new and always changing creative ways.  Letting go of knowing and getting creative with what is.

This is nature and human nature.  Think of the hard workers we know: birds, otters, beavers, ants, dolphins and think of the ways they wrestle, splash, chase, climb, swing, create and build! We are the same, this is how we are meant to experience life.

This can be a challenging task for adults, and still I invite you to step into your childhood and Play!  Step into the landscape of your imagination, immerse yourself in something that takes a hold of you, that allows you to forget the rules and what is needed of you in your life and focus on getting fed by experience.

The greatest healing for adulthood is childhood, for rigidity and anxiety is play and tapping into the senses of the body.  This is a cry out for Play!  Play, it is equally as important as asking yourself questions about who you are, as contributing to the community, and as stepping into the spiritual parts of self. Without play we struggle to find balance.  

Remember to Play with Oaks Counsel’s nature-based healing and programs.