Tag Archives: play

Why Adults Need to Play: The Play Challenge

It’s Sunday afternoon. You’re 7, 11, pick an age. Your parents are asleep and you can’t go anywhere.

What would you do?

Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.

Abraham Maslow
American psychologist

When my children were little and would come to me and say, “I’m bored,” I’d tell them, “Good, you’ll find your true self on the other side.” I had to resist giving them suggestions, telling them to clean their room or call a friend. I knew that they, like me, needed to fall in–and through–their boredom. We have to putz around and go through our usual excuses to get past all that and find what’s on the other side.

Why do we need to play? Because it’s healing. It’s like re calibrating your brain, your soul and your body.We need to play in order to rest, in order to let go, in order to process. We need to play like we need to breathe. It feels good. It fills us with more than oxygen. It fills us with hope. Kids play even they’re sad, even at funerals or when they’re sick. They fall into play and it takes them beyond their sorrow and beyond their pain.

How you play says a lot about who you are, where you grew up, if you had siblings or friends nearby or if you were more solitary in how you played. Play holds more nuggets are to who you are, what drives you, intrigues you, allows you to fall deep into your easy and true self than all your secrets do.

Life coach Martha Beck is on a new mission–to remind people to play. She’s on a month of what she calls, “radical fun.”

“Just look back on your childhood and find what you did when no one was forcing you. Did you climb trees? Did you play computer games? Did you build forts? …”

There are clues and keys in what you did on those Sunday afternoons. The building blocks of who you are were already peeking through–director, engineer, writer, nurse or artist…all have their roots in the games and make believe of our childhood.

Here’s my list of what I loved to do as a child:

  • Climb my dogwood tree and see the world from that high perch
  • Pretend–I was a fairy, a fighter, a teacher, a trapeze artist.
  • Draw, paint, color–lots and lots of coloring.
  • Making up stories, creating my own books.
  • Swinging, climbing, riding my bike for hours (oh the freedom and wind in my hair) while pretending–already multitasking!
  • Singing, “performing”
  •  Hiding in the garden, under the hydrangea and azalea bushes and using sticks, nuts and flowers as my props

And here I am…writing, painting, performing, still riding my bike and gardening. We are who we have always been.

So here’s my proposition:

Come play with me.

Play every day.

Ask yourself, what would be fun today?

Play hopscotch on your driveway.

Sing in your car.

Buy some bubblegum and blow giant bubbles.

Get some molding clay and make tiny people and animals. Smush them all together and start again. Play isn’t about finishing. Play isn’t about perfection.

Get some crayons and drawing paper, doodle, color, repeat.

Jump on a bike and do some figure 8’s.

Break into spontaneous play.

That’s my challenge, to play every day.

I don’t want to make play yet another project, but to have that thought of play, of fun, of exploring whatever is at hand, whatever my mind and heart leaps to next close enough to reach out and grab it.

Play isn’t hard. Not adult hard, but play is serious. Kids wear themselves out playing. They come in dirty, exhausted, and exhilarated. Didn’t you hate it when your parents interrupted your play with something as mundane as eating???  When is the last time you were so engaged, so enamored with what you were doing that you had no interest in eating? Not many adults can remember that. Eating as become an obsession in part because we’ve forgotten the power of play.

It is a happy talent to know how to play.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
American writer

I hope you’ll write to me, share what you did as a kid, share your moments of play.



The importance of play: TED talk


Why do we play?




Filed under art, creativity, happiness, Uncategorized, writing

The Science of Play

Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.

Diane Ackerman

If you mention you’re going to play people tend to think you’re going to sign up for softball, push a kid on a playground swing, or join in a shuffleboard match.  We’re so serious we exercise like it’s a board meeting–no smiles, no silliness allowed. Yet there is a science that backs play. Play is practice for dealing with the future or the unexpected and teaches us how to adapt  (like a kid playing house, or fake battles) Play allows us to explore possibilities without committing to just one.  Play frees our brain. You can’t be in full play mode and worry, plot, or analyze. Play absorbs the body and the mind.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, play is my word of the year. I’m studying play but more importantly, I’m playing. You can’t (0r shouldn’t) be too serious about play. It would defeat the purpose. I’m also collecting play items: balls, kaleidoscopes, bubble paraphernalia, kazoos, silly hats–figuring out what attracts me and how exactly I like to play. My plan is to then draw a correlation between the way I play and the way I create. I guess I’m my own lab rat. I want to see if I can increase my creativity, my joy, my health and outlook by play–but I don’t want it to be that linear. I don’t want demand play to perform for me like a trained elephant that has no choice but to join my circus.

All of us have a history of play. How we play, who we play with, what we consider the best kind of play, what play doesn’t interest us, whether we’re “team” players or would rather putz and play on our own. Some of us play by building, others by imagining/role play. How we played as a child greatly determines how we play as an adult. Our bodies hold memories of play.

Dr. Stuart Brown,  co-author of  Play — How it Shapes Our Brains, Opens the Imagination, and Shapes the Soul, is also the  founder of the National Institute for Play  explains the science behind play:

“The evidence is broad. It starts objectively by watching animals at play and seeing what it does for them — it improves their performance, immune system, their capacity to remember things. And if you follow that through to a human system, those same benefits appear to us — particularly in fertile imagination, in a sense of optimism, in capacity to persevere and to do things that you enjoy — are all by-products of play. And if you then hook someone up to a brain imaging machine you’ll find out that when they’re at play, the brain lights up more from that than virtually anything else they can do.”

When it comes to being (and staying) a creative person, whether your creativity is expressed in writing, visual art, the performing arts, inventions, or even in the sciences, society isn’t likely to encourage you to play at work. You have to know and believe how crucial play is for yourself. You have to carve out (and guard) your play time. You have to incorporate an element of play into your work. That means to stop analyzing and start exploring. That means to figure out how you get into the flow where you brain and body are on the same wave length (literally). That means imagining, saying “what if,” turning your idea inside out and upside down. That means going for a walk, or a skip, or turning on some music and dancing, even at the office. That means honoring that play is ironically, serious and necessary “work” and crucial to your process.

When I’m writing I often have to stop and go for a walk. I take my characters with me. I talk in their voice (out loud). I argue with them, ask them what they’d never do and then I make them do it (the human contradiction), I play with my basket of balls (some spiky, some gushy) while I’m bouncing on my exercise ball. There’s something about all that roundness that makes me think. And sometimes I take a nap. Play is exhausting and often asks for its complement: rest. Some problems can only be solved by the subconscious. by not forcing the solution.

How do you play?

Does play spark your creative process?


Think back at ages 4-6–what did you like to play? (include organized sports, what you played with your siblings or parents, what you played alone, classes and free play)

Ages 7-10?

Ages 11-14?

Ages 15-20?

How have you played as an adult? (Classes, workouts, free-time, etc.)

Name those who have been your best play buddies (throughout all the time periods).

Fill in this blanks:  If I had all the time and money in the world I’d play by _______________.

The most playful person I know today is ___________________.

I play the longest when I’m ___________.

I’ve never sculpted a bust before, so the only way I know how to enter new territory is play–commit to nothing. Explore, ditch, and start again.


Filed under art, creativity, writing

My Word of the Year: Play

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.

I always  choose a word of the year. It’s much better than a bunch of broken resolutions, and I’ve found it’s a barometer of sorts, a way to gauge how true to course I am throughout the year. I had decided on “play” as my word for 2012 back in December. I’m studying several books on creativity (risking, playing, thus the title of the blog) and I’m finding that for our minds and our souls, play is vital.

Then, my brother died. Unexpected. Heartbreaking. I grieved. My family grieved. We reeled and wailed against the incomprehensible thought that my brother was gone. He’s not, but his physical presence is a void in our lives. It took (and is taking) some time to walk through the early side of loss and acceptance, and for a time, I felt as if the concept of play far away or somehow inappropriate. To play, you have to have a light heart, and that was something I just didn’t have.

But I had already named my word for the year. I had already begun to attract and create play. I had already signed up for the gym and for Zumba classes, and I started going. At first I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I was literally spinning in circles and almost knocking me and everybody else down. But I loved the music. I love the movements. Seventy percent of Zumba music has to be international, so there’s African music and Indian (from India) music, and lots and lots of Latin music. My hips were attempting things it didn’t know how to do…

Finally, it started making sense, and then the other day I’m grapevining across the floor and turning and booty shaking, and I’m smiling. I’m doing all this and I have the biggest goofiest grin on my face. I’m so happy I’m almost levitating. Sweat is pouring off me and I don’t look at the clock because I don’t want the hour to end. Some days I go twice. And on that day when I’m booty pumping and yelling a “whoo-whoo” I realize that what this feels like is kindergarten.

In kindergarten I learned to skip. We’d line up and take turns and I practiced and practiced until I was the best skipper in the room. I loved how it felt to be suspended in air. I loved the lilt and sway. I loved that I felt light and easy. It felt like play.

In that Zumba class it hit me–Zumba feels like skipping and skipping feels like play. Zumba feels like play. I’m playing.

And when I’m playing I’m not making lists. I’m not scheming. I’m not incessantly checking my email. I’m not people pleasing. I’m just playing.

In some ways, I think I’m getting out of my own way. Good things are happening. Things are in motion. It won’t do any good to fret about it or check on it 50 million times. .Whether it’s about writing, publishing, art, or family, I tend to obsess (who doesn’t?) Playing allows my brain to stop over-analyzing and places it in that zen-state where it can work out problems, create, and generally muck about without my telling it what to do.

I don’t know where this word, play, will take me this year. But it feels right.

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.
Carl Jung

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