Through play, we learn about ourselves and others around us—siblings, parents, friends. It all starts with how we play. Do we observe, get stuck in, wait, or blunder in, and see what’s happening as we go? How we play as children, provides indicators of what and how we will do our lives as we grow through the years.
I have been conducting an informal study on play for over fifty years. I started as a teenager looking after neighbour’s children. Three; the middle boy scribbled on walls, jumped on couches, threw pillows and defied everyone as he pushed boundaries. He defied preconceived notions and rules surrounding him. He exasperated his mother and his father dismissed him.
I found his capacity to play extreme as he pushed limits with a mischievous smile. He seemed defiant to see how far he could go. His ingenuity was captivating as he tested, re-tested and continued to test. I discovered his play was integral to what he expressed emotionally and later, how his life unfolded. What he felt came out in his play. As the young teen I was then, I witnessed links between behaviour, play, and attitude.
He became a salesman, and a general all-round dare-devil; motorbikes, jumping out of planes, extreme sports. It was part of his play at four, and it manifested in his play at 14, 24 and 34 each time intensifying play. I’d hazard a guess that at fifty-four and eighty-four he will somehow push boundaries.
Of course, I’ve had my own kids since that time, have grandkids and have worked with hundreds of young people and I have to say, in general, how a child plays as a youngster is frequently a gauge for what they will chose as work and more importantly, what activities really make their heart sing—where time evaporates—sometimes called soul or spirit purpose.
On those occasions, where we cannot imagine doing anything else; that activity that wakes us in the small hours, get us up in the morning early on a weekend, even on holidays. Chances are—our spirit awakens us to this activity because even in its most challenging moments—it feels like play.
This excitement is what I see in children, still. I see the adult they will turn into and those activities that bring them alive. I think the sadness of it all, is not that it exists in each of us—that is its gift— it is rather that so many of us ignore it, and feel the drive and perhaps obligation to do what makes most money, rather than allow our awareness to grab onto that one thing that makes us come alive. It isn’t easy that much I recognize. We wander around a bit, sometimes an entire lifetime, but when we arrive at that place that ignites us, inflames our heart, that is our happiness, our joy.
Perhaps it is a luxury of opportunity, yet I see it as an inner compulsion that we are unable to let-go of because it feels like play to us. It helps us to connect to ourselves. Our inner selves and if there is a luxury attached to it, it is the luxury of age, and having time to reflect, and give it breath in our lives. That play—perhaps not the actual play of our youth—but our attitude toward play, still exists in our lives as elders. I like to track it backwards now, see if I can guess what they did as a child, and see how it is reflected in their life today. Awesome stuff!
Writing Practice: Remember a time when you were actively playing as a child where time seemed to disappear. Write from that standpoint; identify your feelings, thoughts, the activities themselves, and how your inner and outer landscapes altered, or didn’t, during the experience. If you can’t remember a specific feeling, or thought, imagine it as you re-tell the story. How does this reflect in your life today? Does it? If not imagine how it may have. Have fun with this; its play!