Playtime - The Fifth Practice for an Awesome Life
I remember when my mother explained to me that once I became a mom my time for play was over. As a parent, I needed to be ever vigilant and put fun aside. Fun was for youth. As you might imagine, my mom was not a whole lot of fun. Although she was a loving, present, and supportive mom she robbed herself of the simple joys of silliness and play and suffered the consequences: depression, obesity, inflexibility, etc. She didn't make up this idea. She inherited it from my Russian immigrant grandparents. They had been taught this "rule" by their parents, who heard it from their parents. Growing up in America in the 50's and 60's I simply couldn't grasp the connection and saw no benefit in playing life by this or a number of the other "rules" that had been handed down the generations on how to live. How well my inability to see the value here served my brain, health, and creativity, without me even knowing it!
Through the new tools that allow the human brain to be studied we now know that play, the spontaneous, pleasurable, non-judgmental exploration of life solo or in company, allows for brain growth at every age. Laughing and enjoying oneself is just as vital to living well as the more serious pursuits of financial, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, social, physical, and professional growth.
Laughing and enjoying yourself allows for brain growth. Play post childhood takes the form of hanging out and goofing around, trying on new activities simply for the fun of it, singing even if you're off key, and creating new and unexpected ways of being and doing. Play is allowing the mind the freedom to explore whatever it comes up with. Play is free of rigidity and strict rules of conduct. It is a time to laugh and be silly.
Playtime is the spontaneous exploration of life by yourself or with others in engaging, pleasurable, and non-judgmental ways.
When human beings stop playing for fear of "looking silly" or "sounding dumb" the set of circuits in the brain that make learning fun and facilitates the acquisition of new skills atrophy. Existence becomes routine and life as "exploratory expedition" and "adventure" becomes an experience of the distant past. An absence of play stifles the courage to be creative, to take a chance, to imagine something new. and keeps us stuck in a cycle of repeating what feels safe while in actuality, vital parts of our brains are atrophying.
I was with my grand niece Julia the other day. Julia is 2 1/2. We went out to explore. Jessica, Julia's half sister was with us. Jessica is 12. Jessica's idea was to walk to the playground to play. Julia's idea was to run and stop, sit and stand, lay on the grass and watch the sky, look at the birds, sit on the neighbor's bench. I was thrilled being with someone who was experiencing such joy and freedom simply by being in the world. Jessica kept saying "let's just get to the playground so we can play." When I pointed out that Julia and I weren't waiting, that making our way to the playground was all well and fine but we were already playing. It really didn't matter how far we got. Jessie didn't want to lay in the grass...she was afraid of getting her clothes "dirty". She was uncomfortable walking on the neighbor's lawn or sitting on the neighbor's curb to "rest" since it wasn't "our house". I respected her concern so we rang the neighbor's doorbell to ask if it was alright with them if we sat on their curb, used their bench, and walked on their lawn. It was a corner home. We were on a very public and exposed portion of their property. Jessie was shocked at the idea that we could ring the neighbor's bell to ask for their permission. In her head “if it isn't "ours" we can't and shouldn't use it”. Obviously she had learned some rigid lessons about ownership and fear and, without realizing it, was limiting possibility and fun greatly. How often are we doing this to ourselves?
Just as in childhood, there are primary guidelines to be aware of when it comes to play: those which address legitimate safety concerns (psychological and physical), and understanding when and where it is appropriate to let loose. Being mindful of these keeps play safe and playful for all.
It' s easy for me to play outside and to play by myself. I've never been to a karaoke bar. I have an idea about my voice not being "good enough". I bet it would be fun if I got over my self-consciousness and tried it out. Where do you play? What ideas have you taken on that if you dropped would expand your capability to play?
Here's to brain growth, learning, creativity, and fun!
More articles on the topics:
Post by Lisa Brick