Learning to Play Again

When we were young, we had no trouble playing. We did it all the time. We did not even have a word for it – that was just how we lived. Life was play – we enjoyed every moment of it and we did not differentiate between one activity and another: it was just one joyful, spherical whole.

But then we went to school, to college, to university, to work… and somewhere along the way, some of us forgot how to play. We learnt to do things we called play, like playing sport, which often hurt, playing up, which ended up with a hangover and all sorts of other bad side-effects (or as I like to call them, effects!) and playing golf, which in some opinions, is just an expensive way to spoil a good walk.

But is all of this really play? Does it make us feel joyful, vital, and restore and revive us? And if not, how can we learn to truly play again? What is play, anyway?

Interestingly, we use the word play in many different ways.

The common meanings are:

  • engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation, rather than a serious or practical purpose
  • take part in a sport
  • be cooperative
  • represent a character in a theatrical performance or film
  • perform on a musical instrument
  • move lightly and quickly, so as to appear and disappear, flicker
  • allow a fish to exhaust itself pulling against a line before reeling it in.

And that is just the verbs!

As a noun, we use play like this:

  • activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation, especially by children
  • the conducting of a sporting match
  • a dramatic work for the stage, or to be broadcast
  • the space in or through which a mechanism can or does move
  • light and constantly changing movement.

The word comes from the Old English ‘plegian’ meaning ‘to exercise’, or ‘plega’ ‘brisk movement’ and or from the Middle Dutch ‘pleien’, meaning ‘leap for joy, dance’.

As we have ‘grown up’, it feels like we have lost the childhood wonder of ‘leaping for joy and dancing’ and somehow learned that we had to substitute that with ‘exercise or brisk movement,’ which often feels like just more hard work!

So what would it look and feel like to learn to truly play again?

Clearly, we cannot just walk around in our work clothes leaping about and dancing, because that would look crazy and no-one would take us seriously or come near us, but what can we do?

Is it even about ‘doing’ anything, or is it more about a quality of ‘being’ that we can bring to our day?

Can we live and work in a way that is playful all the time? Can we see the joy and wonder in everyday life, so that every day is play again?

And if not, what has gotten in the way? We used to live like this when we were little – who said life had to be serious as we grew big?

I love the less common definitions of play –

  • the space in or through which a mechanism can or does move – scope or freedom to act or operate
  • light and constantly changing movement.

This describes more the quality of how we can be as we live our day – a quality of lightness, of freedom, of spaciousness – that we can take with us, wherever we go, into all of our daily activities.

If we move with this feeling – which is all that playfulness truly is – then everything we do can feel light and playful, no matter how intense it is technically or physically. We can restore the joy and wonder of just being in a body and living life, and work and play can become a graceful, spherical whole – which we used to just know as ‘life’ when we were young.

Perhaps this is the key to living life in full and ageing grace-fully – learning to play again!

By Anne Malatt, Woman, Wife, Mother, Grandmother, Eye Surgeon, Writer, Australia

Further Reading:
Time to Play
I am at last learning to be playful (in my 70’s!)
Hanging Out to Simply Be Me
It’s All Just Child’s Play – Or Is It?

703 thoughts on “Learning to Play Again

  1. “light and constantly changing movement” How beautiful to present the quality of play, a quality that we can re-introduce our selves to through the way we move, so that we can play all day long even through our working week.

  2. It is interesting to consider that what we as adults call play is mostly in a game like environment, conditioned with rules and justification while in truth we are still the same as that child we once were and naturally considered life as one big play garden? So where did we lose this natural way of being and at what cost?

  3. We have made joy to be that which is laughter and excitement from children, and so we are entertaining them for them to perform! When in fact true joy is a movement that reflects the grace and playfulness within, no emotions simply a certain quality of movements that reflects the all that we are.

  4. Play is an expression of who we are and allows our sweetness, joy and light shine in our every movement. It is not just something we do but a way of being, that ignites the true love of who we are to sing in every fine detail of our movements made.

  5. How ‘playful’ we are has a huge impact on our attitude toward life. It’s hard to get bogged down in issues and dilemmas when you are feeling light hearted.

  6. Who said we had to get all serious just because we’re old enough to make money and drive cars? It’s crazy what we’ve left behind, for no real reason other than protect ourselves from others not taking us seriously. Bring the play back I say!!

  7. In fact I like to play and not to be serious, as I can sense this is my natural essence. But I have to admit that life has made me the opposite, serious and restricted in moving freely in my body, actually 180 degrees off from who I am naturally.

  8. Thank you Anne, I have never read this before so it was a delight to find it. It’s given me an opportunity to appreciate the quality of playfulness I already have and consider bringing that into some more serious pockets of my life including work.

  9. Anne, I love this article, as I sit here reading this with my young son I can feel how he is playful in everything he does, he doesn’t get serious no matter what is going on and so there is a lightness and joy in the way he is. As adults we seem to get caught up in time and if things are intense we get serious rather than stay with our lightness and playfulness and deal with things from here and so life can become intense and feel hard.

  10. It is infectious being around people who see and enjoy the magic in life day in and day out. Why is it that something so strong in us as children becomes so absent as we grow older. I know for me there is a sense throughout my childhood of taking on more burdens and wanting situations to be a certain way – with this came a seriousness and the space to have a spontaneous giggle diminished.

  11. The lighter and more spacious I feel in my body, the more playful I naturally feel. If there is a tension or a hardening I know I have taken something on and it’s my body’s way of asking me to bring myself back by connecting more deeply to myself.

  12. I can be so very playful when I don’t have to go to work, (an observation of my wife) but when I’m off to work I often loose this playfulness, as you say Anne I can’t really jump around at work too much or they might lock me up but there is still far more room to lighten up and be more playful because when we are it is infectious.

  13. A great re-read Anne as I can feel again the quality of playfulness I had when I was young and how it was uninhibited and free of pictures, just following one movement into the next, with ease and lightness. I will take this with me into my day today.

  14. To not differentiate between one activity and another rather focus on the quality of connection or presence we have in life is another whole different ball game. It means that life is one life and a choice to live in joyous connection rather than separation from who we truly are.

  15. I love how being playful is a series of movements and allows us to express with joy and love for who we are , taking the seriousness out of life and seeing that we can indeed be playful everyday if we so choose.

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