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?

796 thoughts on “Learning to Play Again

  1. Oh my gosh! I went to watch a group of colleagues play golf and it was such an eye opener in how we bash ourselves up with negative words and how we feel we are never enough, it seems to get ingrained when people play this game.
    Going around 18 holes with a team of four I got to see and hear firsthand how they constantly compared to each other, cussed themselves for playing a bad shot, a curved drive, missed the pin, the self-bashing was constant at each different hole. At one point I gave my companion a pep talk as he was being such a negative Nancy, it was quite shocking actually, and after that he started to play a better game and said I should be his manager, when all it took was a more positive attitude or outlook. It’s just a game but it gave me a peek into their lives and how they smash themselves up every day because they have such negative attitudes about themselves.

  2. Anne, I love how you have highlighted that being playful with or at work seems to be interpreted as not being possible, when indeed it is about how we are with what we do and not what we do that makes it playful.

  3. My dog is super playful…when we go for a walk, he will play with a leaf or a branch, or play with the lead, or just play with an insect flying by. When I am being serious then I find this annoying, but when I too am being light hearted then I find this funny and delightful. His playing and how I respond or react, is a good indicator of how connected and relaxed I am feeling within myself, for being playful is our natural/norm in reality.

  4. Reflecting on this blog I was wondering just where the seriousness entered my life and squashed the playfulness. Was it my parents, or perhaps it was school, or perhaps it was both. Whatever, the point is how sad it is to knock that out of a child, generally never to be seen again. Without the healing I have done on myself, thanks to Universal Medicine I would still be lost in this heavy seriousness.

  5. Today, finding myself in seriousness is like a calling to come back to me. For sometime now I’ve realised that no one in this world – even the most seemingly angry person – is boring and serious. I love walking in life knowing that we all have a spunky fabulous inner spark of light, wanting to come out and play.

  6. Love this blog Anne because it redefines the meaning of ‘play’ or being ‘playful’. It has nothing to do with having plenty of spare time or being lazy. It’s all about connection with who we are, with the natural joy inside us. I feel inspired by some men and women who are living in full, very joyful and at the same time very committed with their business, work, families…I appreciate having role models of different ages who have connected deeper with themselves, for the blessing they are for all around. The spark in their eyes, the aliveness and ageless beauty they emanate is very precious to see and feel.

    1. This is spot on Inma – I love how you have said this – it is a fact that the playfulness comes from the inside and hence is something we bring to the activity and it is not the activity that dictates if we can be playful or not.

  7. When you watch a child play there is a spontaneity, and joy that is very natural and gorgeous to observe. As we get older we loose this spontaneity and get bogged down by our issues that seem more important than the lightness and joy of allowing ourselves to be playful.

  8. You inspire me to bring back playfulness more back into my life. I don’t have to bring my toys to work, but it is about the quality as you write. It is ‘a quality of lightness, of freedom, of spaciousness – that we can take with us, wherever we go, into all of our daily activities.’

  9. I have observed the word “play” to also be associated with the word “irresponsibility” and that to be “responsible” is to not have fun or be play-full. Totally rubbish. This is a bastardisation of these words, as true joy is true responsibility. They are inseparable simply because in our essence we are naturally both at once.

  10. This blog reminded me of a swim in the sea I had recently, I have only ever swum in the sea surrounding England about twice in 25 years as I deem it far too cold but went in after some friends had in October no less and it was freezing but on coming out to unseasonably warm air and no wind I warmed up and I felt a joy and wellbeing I hadn’t felt since I was a child, playful, slightly mischievous but overall just felt amazing and the feeling lasted for some time as well. I suppose swimming in the sea like that took me back to my childhood as I would have only been silly enough as a child to venture into such cold water.

  11. Great to read this again today and be reminded of just how much I can bring the quality of play into my everyday. I seem to have a belief that there are set times for work and for play, but when you consider play as an inner quality it’s really there to be brought forth anytime I feel to express it.

  12. When our very young granddaughter asks me to play with her I know she is asking me to stop the ‘doing’ and just be together.

  13. A perfect read for me this morning as I was taking life too seriously. And thank you for reminding us that play is also about having space, and not being tight and rigid.

  14. As an adult, you only have to stop to watch children play to realise that life has become rather serious and that playing seems reserved for the young ones. But observe yourself a little more closely and I am sure that inside, the little child, who is still a part of us, wants to get up and join the play. So why don’t we? After all life is for living to the fullest and playing brings the joy and fun we have often forgotten, back into our lives where it belongs. So, let’s go play!

    1. You described that so beautifully Ingrid! If we look at adults in unnecessary seriousness they look and seem quite crushed, yet a child in play is open, expressive, and sometimes downright exuberant!

  15. Children have no difficulty playing whatsoever, as soon as they meet another child they just get to it whilst as adults we tend to lace things with a layer of seriousness.

  16. Being playful is definitely revitalising for me, it is such a true part of my essence and I know when I’m disconnected from myself, because the play and joy is just not there. Reading your blog today was so confirming because as you pointed out play is such an intrinsic and natural part of who we are as children.

  17. I remember as children, adults telling us that we shouldn’t rush to grow up because childhood are the best years of our lives. Perhaps those adults kept saying that because they had forgotten to play and were misireble in their day to day. I always get wonder (and get quite annoyed really) at our double standards – if a child skips in a shop, plays around with their sibling, we find that cute. But if an adult was to do it, we judge that as weird, and crazy – why is that? Why can’t we allow ourselves to be playful, enjoy life and be light? Where is this seriousness coming from?

  18. Our playfulness never truly leaves us, so we can be playful and leap for joy whenever we feel to but we tend to hold back because we are concerned we may be judged or criticised. But giving ourselves permission to be playful, joyful and fun is so worth it, we light up the world whenever we are being ourselves in full. 

  19. Being open to feel and ‘see the joy and wonder in everyday life’ and who we are in essence certainly allows playfulness to be a natural part of our everyday. In being led by our lightness of being life becomes an incredible journey of unfolding that is all about learning, exploring and deepening our relationship with the power of our love and the truth we are here to live together, never a dull moment as there is always more to be in awe of, realise and embody.

  20. I definitely prefer the Middle Dutch version of play, “‘leap for joy, dance’”, over the Old English version which to me sounds rather boring. I know that I became too serious at a very early age and the joy of playing was slowly dimmed, but now in my late 60’s, with more vitality than I have ever had, I am very open to leaping for joy and a little bit of dancing when the impulse arises. I say you’re never too old to play, be silly and have fun!

  21. Children are not ruled by time so play for them is a normal part of their day. I know for myself when ever time rules my life then playfulness disappears because I am more worried about time than the joy of just being me.

    1. This is great point Alison, for when we invest in ‘self’ we then are ruled by time, however when we invest in our Soul it is then all about space and the joy of magnifying the lightness of our Godly being in the space we are in.

    2. Wow, Alison, awesome observation and sharing. This is so true, I experience this too and can see how much we contract as soon as we are governed by time and our contraction kills any form of playfulness and spaciousness.

  22. A beautiful lady( in her late eighties) said “We do not stop playing because we are old, we grow old because we stop playing” She also said “The only people who fear death are those with regrets” and “We all grow old but growing up is a choice” I am only in my sixties but can certainly understand what she is sharing here.

  23. Thank you Anne. I feel very playful most of the time but don’t actually express this any way near as much as I could. When I do the joy grows and expands. and it is also highly contagious.

  24. I feel with social media and the busyness of life, the natural ability to play seems to have become less and less. Recently someone told me of a 5 year old that when they wake up demand milk and the iPad and are on it for 1 hour before they get out of bed!!! It is really sad just how far and how bad we have let this become.

  25. A return to playfulness is definitely what is needed, it brings a joy and simplicity to our journey instead of getting caught up with ‘trying’ too much or being serious.

  26. Sounds lovely Anne, let’s restore the playfulness in our lives. At this moment I am feeling the return of my playfulness, and that just goes automatically when I make more loving choices which reveal the love in my body. And just like we are love, we are playful by nature: it can only be covered up.

  27. I find when I am more myself, I am naturally playful but when I am all serious and in drive it cuts the playfulness and leaves me feeling restricted and the space around me seems to shrink. In contrast, playfulness feels like the space around me simply expands no matter where I am.

  28. When I choose to keep connecting back to myself and my relationship with my body there is a lightness and playfulness naturally there in abundance, it is only when I disconnect from this connection and presence with myself that life appears to be serious, denser and less simple.

  29. It is time for a play, one that is by an energy that is our Soul. We think we have been the privileged ones that know well, but in fact we have played such lesser state of intelligence that we are currently not even aware of the energy that is running through us. Hence, we need to come back to the energy of Soul, by our honesty and observation first. From there the rest will grow.

  30. Re-learning that life is play I am discovering without a doubt that it “is the key to living life in full and ageing grace-fully”.

  31. In the last six months of working two days a week with children I have definitely been ‘learning to play again’. These children have been such wonderful teachers as to how I can lighten up and have fun; be a little silly in fact. But the most amazing thing is that even though every single one of these children has been, or is still, going through some very challenging and not very pleasant times in their young lives, they still haven’t forgotten how to play.

    1. Awesome observation Ingrid, I love what you’ve shared. As I was reading this blog, I realise how much I struggle to sit and play with my children, because in my head I think I have too much to do and not enough time to play.

  32. Being playful is celebrating life in how it is we live from moment to moment and task to task for the truth that it is knowing that it is expansion of how it used to be.

  33. School teaches us to segment life. We learn to move segment-ely. When this happens, we start seeing segments and start living segments. We learn how to act in a segment and what to do afterwards. We come and go. We befriend the trees and dismiss the forest while the whole continues to be spherical and continues to be there.

  34. I have been noticing how easy it is for children to run around, do little weird things, ask questions and all sorts of things. Yet, adults are the complete opposite – we walk around like stiff robots trying to fit into the contracted society which we have created.

  35. Surrendering to that quality of lightness that our bodies are so naturally aligned to restores our vitality and sense of connection to ourselves and each other. When we take ourselves seriously, life feels very heavy and pretty exhausting.

      1. Playfulness = Vitality = Lightness = Simplicity = Love = Living Life In Full = Vitality = ………..

    1. I agree Bryony, I am very good at being serious but have forgotten at times to be light and playful. Reading this blog and your awesome comment reminds me we can be ourselves and this naturally brings out our playfulness.

  36. Work was quite intense yesterday, so I was taking a break and sitting outside for a moment. A colleague came up and we had quite a giggle about something and were being quite silly. It took me back into my body and I enjoyed the playfulness of the moment, and realised it had been missing in that intensity.

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