Last week, my granddaughter turned two, and her grandfather and I bought her a purple drum set. On her big day, I watched her (via Zoom) banging on the drums, then the cymbals, then back to the drums again with every ounce of concentration and joy she possesses. It set my heart on fire… and also got me thinking about play.
We are living in a heavy time. Daily life has changed. Tensions are high. Ugliness is being revealed. Fear wants to rule. What might happen if we all took some time to play?
When I was a public relations professional, I once participated in a team building exercise where everyone had to line up according to where we believed we fit on a continuum between “all work/no play” and “all play/no work.” I was somewhere near the end of the line representing the idea that one should complete her duties before she played. A lot of us were clumped up at that end. Now I’m aiming to change my place on that imaginary line.
These last few months have reminded me how vital play is. Research shows it helps build creativity, high-level reasoning, insightful problem-solving skills, and cognitive and emotional strength, which seem to me to be the very attributes we need in order to begin untangling the complex issues that weigh us down. Play reduces stress, and it also helps people connect with each other. Two more things we could use right now. So why is it so hard for me (and maybe you) to make time for play?
One reason is that we are cultured against it. Isn’t it odd that play is widely regarded as fundamental to a child’s brain development, yet the older a human being gets, the more play seems to be discouraged? We might encourage competitive play like sports, but we don’t fully cultivate and reward free, imaginative, silly play.
I wonder if it is difficult for some of us adults to truly play because it can feel so uncontrolled, so open ended. And of course, there are all of those important tasks we are not finishing! Play requires us to lose ourselves in the moment, to get out of our heads, to loosen our grip, to trust that the work will get done. It takes practice.
And that brings me to considering play as a spiritual practice. Can play help us make space for the sacred? I believe so. Play puts us in a blissful place, and that’s the easiest place for me to connect to the Divine. I am not suggesting we view play as a way to turn a blind eye to the heartache around us. Quite the opposite. Play affords us a moment to remember our joy and light, to understand that we are powerful, loving beings who are here at this time because the world needs us.
Where do you fall on the work/play continuum? If you could see my desk right now, you would understand the progress I’ve made toward play! I’m going to keep at it. I want my granddaughter to have a thriving, just and peaceful world in which to make her music.