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?

640 thoughts on “Learning to Play Again

  1. Reading this reminds me of what people said when I was 19 – they called me mature and grown up because, sure I had a wisdom but I was so serious! and this was mistaken as maturity. Now I am far more ‘grown up’ which to me means more responsible but with this much more playful and joyful than I ever was at 19 when I was actually so protected and hidden from the world that I didn’t share who I was or my beauty as children so playfully do.

  2. This is beautiful Anne, it allows one to feel that playfulness is not just a word we have placed pictures and beliefs on, but a vibration one can choice to move in.

  3. Really loving what this blog has brought out in people. There is so much play in peoples comments, bring on the joy..

  4. I love the spaciousness in your blog Anne, and I feel that is the key to being playful: giving ourselves space just to be ourselves, and as we let go of all impositions we become more free to express just that.

  5. This blog is such a fabulous reminder to be light in our days, light in our touch, light with our movements and light withourselves. The moment I bring a little lightness to moments where I have slipped into hardness or self bashing, my whole perspective changes. It’s interesting how we create seriousness and dramas to keep us away from living the naturally light, playful and joyful selves that we are.

  6. The world tells us not to be our amazing, playful and joyful selves. Have you not noticed how much we prefer it when another is not feeling so great because it confirms for us that it’s normal and doesn’t expose our irresponsibility in the catalogue of ill choices that we have made.

  7. Yes we’ve assumed play is only something kids do because we all have to ‘grow up’ and become ‘mature’ which really just means becoming more serious and intense. Yet we all love to play and it is actually a very responsible and productive way to live.

  8. Thank you Anne for breaking down the constructs of what we have perceived ‘play’ to be and remind us of the true quality it actually is – the lightness and spaciousness within. From this place I feel deeply connected with God, which is beautiful to honour and embrace and not judge as wrong from the perceptions of Catholic constructs I have previously lived (and now choose to discard) that present suffering and a hard, sacrificing and serious approach to life attain us salvation of some kind and a place in God’s home.
    When I am connected to the simplicity of the spaciousness and lightness within me these Catholic constructs – just like the other false forms you present – drop away and I feel deeply held, loved and embraced with God, true playfullness only bringing us closer. Beautiful to feel this following the reading of your blog, thank you.

  9. The key to living a life of play is to explore and engage in movements that express our inner joy. That is true rhythm in motion and music to my ears, feet and body all rolled into one.

  10. A great reminder that we have a choice about the quality of our day, irrespective of our circumstances.

  11. Oh my goodness Anne, true ‘play’ is absolutely “the key to living life in full” – at any age or stage of life in which we find ourselves.
    When we lose our sense of play, we have lost our connection with the amazingness that we are – a state of illness in its own right (that no doubt leads to many others).

  12. Play is so needed in the world today- to remind us of the lightness and joy that we can be with life. Even children are lacking in play today, it has been replaced by checking out on screens which creates a heaviness in the body- it is not surprising to see the rate of mental health issues in young people as a result.

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