As far back as I can remember play was for kids. Games were serious and competitive contests. Winners were better and more masculine than losers. Parents bragged about winners and avoided talking about losers. Rules were written and unbreakable. Mature people didn’t play, they put their noses to the grindstone and were productive. I had lost my playfulness until the day that I met Fred.
I felt really odd and nervous entering a room full of strangers who were going to learn about play. But Fred immediately put us at ease. On his T-shirt were the words, “You don’t quit playing because you get old. You get old because you stop playing.” With his soft manner and entertaining stories, he masterfully created a safe environment.
For the first few hours we talked about play, watched videos of Fred playing with children and wild animals, and practiced Aikido exercises that helped us understand the concept of “flow.” Finally when Fred thought we were ready to play he told us to get down on the floor.
As we came together I closed my eyes and just allowed my body to blend into the pile of people next to me, under me and on top of me. The pile assumed an identity of its own. We seemed to be dancing to some undetermined rhythm sometimes together, and other times apart. Someone started to laugh, and the laugh quickly engulfed the room.
Perfect, and I mean “perfect,” strangers were joyfully laughing. I lost consciousness of what others looked like and even their gender. Before the playing exercise I had noticed who I was attracted and not attracted to. But now it didn’t matter. I was enjoying being with everyone, many of whom I never would have chosen to be with.
O. Fred Donaldson in his ground-breaking book, Playing By Heart, develops a compelling case for play as a calling present in all living things. He calls it, “An egoless, non self-conscious state that spontaneously moves us together and apart, like kittens rolling on a rug, or puppies frolicking in a game of tag.”
The heart of play is flow. Although heart-filled play is spontaneous, it is so sensitive to one’s playmates that we intuitively sense what they desire and joyfully meet that desire. One of the longings that few of us experience, especially women from men, is for the healing that occurs from non-demanding human contact. A future blog, “Touch: Beyond Childish” will address this most important subject.
With an open heart, I feel the tickle of connection and laughter often spontaneously arises. When I allow myself to be free and spontaneous, opportunities to learn abound, including learning from feeling the pain of missed opportunities to confronting blocked emotions.
What are your experiences with playfulness? Do you experience the intimate connection of play with others, such as your mate, children, or friends? If you find it easier to play with a pet rather than with other adults, what gets in the way? Do you feel any sadness about losing your playfulness? What resources have been helpful in changing your ideas about play?