It's finally, FINALLY, Spring! I almost can't believe it. Here in Toronto, we've had quite our share of late Winter storms. I know I'm not alone in being So. Ready. For this warmth. For this growth. For the promise of freshness, renewal, vivacity that Spring can bring.
In thinking about Spring, Play comes to mind. Perhaps because it's finally nice out. It's finally possible to spend a few moments outside without completely freezing. There's a sense of possibility, excitement, something new in the air.
And so, I would like to explore the benefits of play for adults. Not as something that you must do, something else to add to your already impossible to do list, but as something to allow into your life at your own pace.
But before I do, let me speak to what might be some of your hesitations. I know that as helpers, as people who tend to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, we can have a tendency to be Super Serious All the Time, to view all aspects of life as Really Important. Play can feel a bit - silly, out of reach, unrealistic. Not part of our mental state.
I know that this can definitely be true for me. Part of what helps me personally in being able to access play at times is my immersion in the Jewish calendar, and right now in particular, the Holiday of Purim. This Holiday, which begins tonight (Yay!), asks adults to dress up in costume, get giddy, drink if that's something you do, and be merry. In dressing up, and in altering our state of consciousness, there is the theme of communicating different, less dominant aspects of our identities, perhaps ones that we tend to keep more covered up, more masked.
These rituals help me play. They helped me spend a good chunk of time last night wrestling with poster board, scotch tape, and scissors, trying to make myself a Witch's Hat. Knowing that I had no idea what I was doing, but somehow, the spirit of the holiday let me experiment, see how it went, try things out, adapt as needed, be open to how things began to form. I was very focused, very mindful. I came out with a less than perfect but very functional Witch's Hat that I am very proud of, and a greater sense of ease and joy.
Psychotherapists have been writing and thinking for many years about the therapeutic benefits of play. Donald Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst, wrote extensively about play and its benefits for kids and adults alike. In his 1982 publication Playing and Reality, he writes, "play is universal... playing facilitates growth and therefore health" (p.41). I will offer you some of his insights re: play, as interpreted by, well, me:
Perhaps it will be helpful if I relate these principles to my own experience of creating a Witch costume for myself for Purim. Regarding the principle of surprise - I was certainly surprised by my progress re: my Witch's Hat and my ability to construct something witch-hat-like! Re: communication, I definitely feel that my creating and wearing this costume tonight will be a communication to myself and to others of the ways that I feel an affinity (perhaps wishful) toward the Witch persona - and the earthy, creative, healing, powerful elements that it contains. Important is the spontaneity, and the sense that we are not playing because we think we should be playing (since Donald Winnicott said so!) or just because we put it on our calendar. We go through so much of our lives pushing through on what we believe we should be doing. Play is a chance to get out of that, at least momentarily. To make a Witch Hat because I bloody feel like it! There is an aliveness, a creativity, a self-expression. All of this can feel very exciting indeed.
Play also tends to involve a mental state akin to mindfulness, or a state a flow. There is the sense that I am fully in what I am doing. Certainty, we could all benefit from more of these moments! Finally, play can give us the sense that we are all powerful - that we have creative energy, that we have the ability to control things in a life that has so many parts that are not under our control. I may not be a millionare, but hey - I can turn a piece of paper into a hat, and it makes me feel pretty powerful!
So I'm not going to tell you how to play. Because I think part of this is discovering this state for yourself, cultivating this attitude as you engage in various activities that could be playful. I know that some of us can access play at times during our everyday adult activities, such as during exercise, cooking, perusing items in the grocery store. Certaintly if you have kids - or have access to kids - you can play with them! As an aside, if you do have kids, and you are looking to find a way to be more playful with them, perhaps few more pearls of wisdom from Winnicott:
Sometimes, play is best accessed spontaneously, not necessarily planfully. This might involve, say, an evening where we shut off TV and other technology, and let ourselves seek activities that stimulate us, that bring us back into the moment, that help us express some aspect of ourselves. Perhaps this might look like baking, crafting, gardening, playing sports, having sex, playing instruments, hobbying of any kind. Perhaps it is lingering on our routes home, window shopping, or people watching. Alternatively, we play while we are using our technologies, watching our shows, playing our internet games, posting our images onto various social networking sites.
Ideally, we even find a way to bring a playful spirit into our work. Wouldn't that be so great?! This is also Really Hard! I am looking to find ways to do this more with my own work. For instance, I'd like to find a way to make this blog post series feel playful for me. Sometimes it does. It feels like a way that I can play with and express certain ideas, certain parts of myself and my practice. Often it feels like work - something I've committed to doing, something that I feel some pressure to make somewhat useful or relatable to you all. So, I sometimes struggle with - how do we make our work more playful?
Perhaps for now, let's keep our eyes open for moments at work when we feel some of these experiences - spontaneity, excitement, in the flow of things, surprising ourselves and communicating new parts to ourselves and to others. Perhaps these precious moments exist at times, and all we need to do is look out for them, be pleasantly surprised when they do arise. And perhaps ask ourselves - hey, how did that happen? How can we re-create this?
Happy Spring. Happy Purim for those celebrating. May we find ways to access Play even as life continues to have serious, heavy elements. Not because we think we should, but because it will make us come more alive.