“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
When was the last time you played?
I’ll be honest with you — for me, it had been months. As a recovering workaholic and someone who is fairly obsessive about productivity and effectiveness, I always struggled with the idea of play. ‘Play’ felt a little like a four letter word.
Why? Because, at the end of the day, what does dancing around my office singing Katy Perry at the top of my lungs actually produce? Sure, it burns a few calories and relieves writer’s block, but isn’t that time that I could be using more productively, more effectively?
I hit the wall a few months back; it was in that moment that I realized the true power of play. I was working on multiple tight deadlines each requiring significant outputs of fresh creative ideas and energy. As much as I tried to fuel myself with a steady supply of caffeine and chocolate, my body felt tired and my brain was blank, dull and flat. I knew that something had to give or I was never going to create a new program or write a fresh article again.
In that moment of desperation, I turned on NPR, and my brain fog parted when I heard Brigid Shulte discussing her book, Overwhelmed, and the value of play. She quoted Stuart Brown who says that play is what keeps our brains flexible and is what enables us to innovate, create and solve problems in new ways. And, in Brown’s “play histories” he has found that people who do not make time for play — in either attitude or activity — are often joyless, rigid, have diminished curiosity and, at the core are depressed.
I knew immediately what I needed to do — I need to play.
Of course, my first instinct was to try to make these attempts at play productive uses of time. So, I scheduled runs with friends — exercise and social time. A book club — expanding my mind and social time. However, each of these attempts at play felt like work just wrapped up in a prettier package. I was missing something.
I was missing what play naturally produces.
The true measure of play is how it feels. Play is joy. Play is a sense of being fully present in the moment and not looking to produce or gain anything as a result of effort.
So, if any of this sounds vaguely familiar or you are just looking to reignite passion it is time to insert PLAY into your life.
P — Purpose
The first step, which I of course learned the hard way, is to disconnect play from any purpose. You are not doing this to get in shape, stimulate your mind, or produce a specific outcome or deliverable. You are doing the activity for the pure joy of it. Now, this can be challenging, so if you must have a purpose refer back to Brown’s research on what happens when you do not make time to play. That should provide a little motivation.
L — Love
How do you feel when you look at a person you love? Play is about connecting to that place of bliss, passion and pure delight. I will never forget that feeling of expansiveness and pure adoration when I looked at my daughter for the first time. So, what lights you up? What did you do as a child that got you excited? I loved making mud pies. I could play in the sandbox and make mud pies for hours pretending not to hear my Mom when she called me in for dinner. I would lose myself in the pure joy of simply creating. How can you recreate this in your life today?
A — Action
Play requires action. There is no such thing as virtual play. Play is the full engagement of body, mind and spirit. You cannot outsource it or reduce it to 140 characters. Trawling Facebook does not count either. You have to do something. To reconnect with the joy of play I enjoyed as a child, I enrolled in a pottery class. It was two hours once a week playing in the mud. I will not be entering any art shows, but I could not care less. I am once again playing in the mud.
Y — Yes!
Play ignites that feeling of yes in your life. It is the full expression of the essence of you. When you are truly playing, you cannot help but feel the exhilaration and a deep sense of rightness that you are truly and fundamentally aligned to your spirit.
Play is living fully.
What can you do now?
• Write down five things you loved to do as a child. Choose one to do again this week.
• If you cannot think of anything you enjoyed to do as a child or need inspiration check out miceatplay.com . This is an amazing community of women in the NYC area who meet regularly for pretty cool playdates. If you are in NYC go play with them!
• Check out Meet Up and find some people in your area who are getting together to play. Find a group and go join them.
• If you are at work, play a game on the computer, bring in a slinky and watch it fall off your desk, or start each team meeting by asking your colleagues to share a story about the last time they played. Lighten it up and lose yourself, even for two minutes, in the joy of play.