Play.In today’s society, the word itself can mean so many things to us. We can play a board game, play dumb, play things off, play them up. What does the word, play, mean? Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word play as, (among other things), “recreational activity; especially: the spontaneous activity of children”.
Let me start by informing you that I am beginning my newest journey into private practice at Integrative Art Therapy, PLLC and preparing to specialize in helping children and teens. Though I have experience in working with both, this will be the first time I’ve concentrated on this underserved population. So, when I was asked to write this introductory blog post, (during a serendipitous visit back to my childhood home), my mind immediately went to play. I realized that by working primarily with kids, I would need to “get on their level” with play.
What better time to learn about this near-forgotten aspect of myself? What better time to remember that as an adult, I am just a big kid who learned how to be grown-up. What a great time to learn how to play again! So where to start?
I recalled that as a child, I spent most of my time playing outdoors. As I stepped outside to reminisce, curious and open minded, I began to remember. I used to run around pretending that I was a brave Native American. Other days I was a settler during the gold rush days. Sometimes I played Indiana Jones – a brave archaeologist on a daring expedition! I could almost see ghosts of my little self, playing in the dirt, climbing the tree in the corner of the yard and hiding treasures under the palm tree.
How hard can it be to play again? It used to be so normal and natural. I decided it was time to revisit that part of myself more deeply! Reluctant, uncertain, and nervous (I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching) I walked over and knelt down in some dirt to “play”. I felt silly, and weird, but I had to do it. Would I remember how? Then, something happened. An old, yet brilliant light clicked on. Oddly, my mind was able to create pretend characters out of a rock, a sprinkler head, a patch of green weeds, and a twig to act in my play. I ended up creating a story with a lot of hidden metaphors. I finished my play session in twenty minutes time, stood up, wiped the dirt off my hands and knees, and rejoined my rightful place in “adult-ville”. Laughing to myself, I faced the rest of my day scratching my head at what just occurred. I kept the idea of play in the foreground of my mind, wondering if I could somehow find other ways to bring more of it into my life.
While on vacation I was presented with some playful opportunities. I attended a ten-year-old’s birthday party. I got caught up in a game of handball, four square, and bantered back and forth with the kids. I laughed as I was demoted from being King of the square to a measly peasant. I also went to the beach with my fiancé and his family. I played badminton and threw a frisbee until my arm hurt. I blew bubbles. I ran from the waves, screeching just like I used to as a little girl.
Simply put, I let go!
I realized that we could all benefit from a bit more play to our lives, of enjoying ourselves as we are, without judging or expecting anything of ourselves. While I was playing, I didn’t try to become anything, or accomplish something. I didn’t know what would happen when I knelt down into the dirt that morning. Like Merriam-Webster’s definition, my play was completely and effortlessly spontaneous. Although I felt nervous and a little silly, I came away laughing. I even felt accomplished for having done “nothing at all”. There is something mindful about this. The practice of total acceptance and surrender to what seems to be “mere child’s play”, led me to understand myself on a deeper, light-hearted, and meaningful level. I could just be, without any reason or motive.
My moment of play mirrored aspects of working with sand tray therapy, a beneficial modality for healing and self-awareness, for both children and adults. This is one of the many beneficial aspects about sand tray work in adult populations– we are giving the client permission to play again!
Play is especially important for children as it is a universal language for them. Children play to process. They play to tell themselves their own stories and to share them with others. It helps to formulate and integrate them in healthier ways by creating a space for self-expression.
So how can you begin to contemplate the role of play in your life? What did you used to play as a child? In what ways can you recall being spontaneous? What games and stories did you create? How did you use your imagination? And more importantly, how do you play now?
Perhaps you play with your own kids or your friend’s children. Maybe you play tug-of-war or a game of “ball” with your pet. How about one night a month you go bowling, play Pictionary or play a card game? What about a tickle fight or a pillow fight with your spouse? Whatever you do, do it consciously, in the name of play.
Surrender to how it makes you feel. Allow yourself to enjoy the act of playing! Use it to open you.
With an attitude of openness, no expectations, and allowing ourselves to feel a little goofy, we become more kind to ourselves. I think we can all use a little less “adult-ing”, and a lot more mindful acceptance of our true, joyful self.
So get out there and play! Do it for your children, family, friends, and even your pets. Most importantly, do it for you.Upcoming Event:
Playshop for Couples– intimacy building through play, art, nature, movement, and more
Recent Interviews & Guest Blogs:
5 Ways to Use Art for Reconnecting to Yourself
How I create: Q&A with Art Therapist Lanie Smith
How to Have the Commitment Talk With Him (Integrative Art Therapists: #11 and 12)