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?

675 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.

  13. Our play is our way. So whenever we have lost our playful side of things – we must restore ourselves back to the simplicity of playfulness again. All it requires is a choice!

  14. I cannot believe how having a truly joy-full laugh can really support so much in disarming the seriousness we run life with. Lightening up is so important to not taking it all on and just being yourself. And by being yourself you will be less drained and more vital!

  15. I use to love playing when I was a kid and the way you bring in the true meaning of play, makes me understand how I can apply it to my adult life, without looking crazy that is, haha. I think that we could all do with a dose of lightness has we get older, things can accidentally get more heavy.

  16. Being playful is an attitude that changes the perception of ourselves and everything around us. I can feel the lightness that it brings to me just by opening myself to it and how this lightens also what I do and how I relate with people. Then I experience that life is much simpler than I used to think it is

  17. Thank you Anne for a great article, I have found I have been slipping into being serious about life by going into the getting it right, no fun at all just a heaviness. our beings when we are being just who we are, are light and lightness with fun joy and spaciousness to be lived.

  18. Thank you Anne, a beautiful reminder to keep it light and have some fun, not hold back that spontaneity and playfullness that is itching to be expressed.

  19. I love how you describe the definition of play as a quality of being that brings a natural spaciousness and lightness to the way we are and that when we connect to this quality within us we come back to our true nature and the innate playfulness that we held as children.

  20. ‘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?’ I know I don’t live this way! I have a belief that life is serious business, and serious in a solemn way to compensate for not bringing the joy that I know heals in its presence.

  21. I know I have had a good dose of the seriousness disease throughout my life, feeling life as a difficulty and a responsibility of the hard-work kind. I love the idea of bringing more play, or joy, into my every day. And no, I don’t feel this means jumping around like a loon either – I can feel it’s more about contacting the qualities within me that feel joyous and embodying them with every movement… expanding my joyousness out into the world.

  22. I love playing… I didn’t used to… I couldn’t really let go that much… but now, the connection with myself that I have nurtured, guided by the extraordinary wisdom presented by Universal Medicine, has opened up to me that inner doorway to be able to play again

  23. ‘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?’ – I love the reality check here!

    1. Ah yes, but once we have reconnected to the truth of who we are, no matter how we move or seemingly do not move, we cannot stop our eyes from dancing and indeed it is this sparkle that reminds others that they are also of this immense and ageless love, wisdom and joy.

  24. I love watching children play – there is so much purpose to their playfulness. This is how we are designed to be. As we all share a common purpose in life – to return to Soul – no matter where we live in the world, the colour of our skin or what our profession may be, we are the ‘children of God’ and we are here to relearn how to move in a way in all that we think, say and do, that this divinity is able to be in active expression. When we approach life from this understanding, life and especially work cannot be a chore because ‘all that we do’ is infused with ‘the all that we are’.

  25. When life is a joy for us, this is what we see and live. When life ceases to be a joy for us, we stop feeling life in a spacious way. We also change the way we move. Thanks to it we cement in or body joy-less until we re-claim it.

  26. My granddaughter who is a toddler was up here recently and it was interesting to join in play with her. I like playing silly games with simple things such as words, singing, or an old saucepan and wooden spoon i.e. not needing complicated or expensive toys necessarily. This time we had a great deal of fun playing with singing. And I love playing with adults too! In fact I realise that I am pretty playful in general – I find the human race (including myself of course) hilarious (if not tragic).

  27. I love the word play and it is one of those words that simply brings inspiration to my life. We can choose to be playful everyday just from the way we move, how we express and the light and joyful quality of this energy offers a great reflection for others too. Seeing someone in a playful way always makes me smile and I feeling inspired by their quality of movements to bring my own playful expression out. Playfulness is infectious and its one movement that truly catches on quickly.

  28. Interesting how in almost every word the sense of quality and absoluteness of its meaning has been lost with focus only on the doing nature of it. Play is an example of this and so is movement. We can play or move in distinctive qualities such as harshness and gentleness with very starkly different effects. We used to know this but no longer generally live it any more.

  29. Fascinating we use one word to describe so many different things – and I agree, the commonality here is the quality of lightness and spaciousness.

  30. True play is a constant series of movements and one that does not separate it is merely a consistent choice to feel our bodies, surrender to it’s joy and move from this expression.

  31. Somewhere along the line we forgot how to walk our joy and instead enjoined with the hum drudgery of life that is entirely self-created and not a drop of it true to the essence of who we truly are.

  32. I know my day flows completely differently when I am feeling playful and light, and I am more open with others allowing them to feel this quality of joy that often we have left behind, but that is always present and available to us all if we make this simple choice.

  33. “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.” I so agree with this observation on youngsters – and I love your comment “Perhaps this is the key to living life in full and ageing grace-fully – learning to play again!” So worth taking on board.

  34. Being able to play and bring joy to how one lives life, ends up being about how much we feel we can let go of control and let go of what life has to look like. We really don’t want to let go of the control a lot of the time, we just want to be serious. But as you point out, it is important to be open to learning to play again!

  35. Reconnecting to our movements and the ease in which our bodies naturally want to move adds to our playful expression and we do begin to feel rejuvenated and joyful because we are returning to who we truly are.

  36. There is this notion that if we grow up and have responsibility in our lives that we have to become serious. But that is just not the case, we can bring in the playfulness and joy alongside the responsibility for sure.

  37. There certainly was a lightness of being when we were children that did not change through the day through whatever we were doing. Whether we were eating, exploring, bathing or playing we were led by the quality of our being first. As we grow up we have been conditioned to compartmentalise ourselves into what is deemed to be acceptable behaviour for different aspects of our living day, measured all by what we do and how we do it. At work, with friends, with family, at home, in sport, in society etc., we are expected to be a certain way, a way that is considered ‘normal’ but is in fact a way that does not include being ourselves first. Yet the lightness of being that was once for us as natural as breathing, still is with us as it is in truth who we are. And so as you have wisely shared Anne – ‘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.’

  38. No matter what age I am in, I will never give up playing because it feels to be the most natural relationship I have with myself and it would be a shame to hide this with everyone I meet.

  39. Interesting definitions of play ‘the space in or through which a mechanism can or does move – scope or freedom to act or operate’ and ‘light and constantly changing movement.’ I love them. Reading your blog also gave me to the space to appreciate just how playful I still am particularly at work. A few years ago in one company they were doing a Winnie the Pooh competition for the whole team and at the end of it I got the Roo award for being the most playful … which surprised me but now I see many ways in which I am playful naturally so (as well as being serious when needed!)

  40. It seems as though we have made the business of living oh so very serious and as the population increases and there are more rules and regulations to keep everyone nicely under control and keep the systems running smoothly we have lost the magic in our everyday encounters. Bringing this playful way of being back into our lives brings back the lightness and the joy to our days. That hard seriousness can sometimes take a while to crack because we have grown so used to it that we wear it like a tough outer layer smothering the childlike innocence and vital joy that we harbour within. Let’s not give up or give in to this cold separative mode of being.

  41. On reading this I would like more play in my life, and I can’t wait for anyone else to bring it. What is apparent is how much we love playfulness as adults, to feel others acting in this way feels light and fun and something we want to be around. So no reason not to be playful, and it actually feels a healthier more efficient way to work too as you get less bogged down in the seriousness and more enthusiastic about life.

  42. I spent much of my adult life being quite serious, even though I am a naturally playful person. What I am loving now, as a woman in her late fifties, is resdicovering this playfulness and having fun with it. Life is so much more enjoyable and it is such a lovely way to engage and connect with other people.

  43. ‘the space in or through which a mechanism can or does move – scope or freedom to act or operate’ . When I first read your blog I could not relate to this particular explanation in my first language which but recently I worked with an American colleague and he used it, explained to me what he meant and then I could feel the Dutch equivalent ‘speling’ and it is beautiful and related to play as this is ‘spel’ or ‘spelen’ in Dutch.

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