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?

783 thoughts on “Learning to Play Again

  1. Learning that we have been played is super important on our return to our Soul as the spirit is smothering us in the stench of being play-full at our bodies expense and the Love of being Soul-full exposes the insidious-ness of the tom foolery we call play.

  2. Anne it is such a joy to come back to playfulness again after years of misery, now I do not differentiate between anything I do it is all a movement of joy. if I don’t feel that connection then I know I’m out, this I have decided is a very simple way to live.

  3. When settled in ourselves it is easier to be playful. If unsettled and/or striving for or holding onto something that isn’t true we can get very serious.

  4. What a play-full blog that is exquisite in what it shares for all to understand and experience the light-ness that can deepen our way of living by living with an energetic understanding of words, as we did naturally as a child.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

    1. This is true, I was struck by how someone moved the other day, their body movements were fluid as though they had no Skeleton. I felt lighter just being near them and felt that I could be that way too. It was quite remarkable to witness and to feel. Then when I went to the shops I realised just how stiff and protected most of us are and so move in this manner. Our hips and shoulders are locked solid and so there is no fluidity. Next time you are out and about watch how people move and you will see what I mean. What if our bodies have been locked down by an energy that restricts our movements on purpose, and we are so used to moving in this way we don’t notice any more? I ask this question because it was not until I saw someone move differently that I got the reflection of another way of moving.

  8. 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.

    1. We do all have a playful side, maybe it is time to allow that out as many of us used to when we were young children, ‘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.’

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.’

    1. I was playing with a small child the other day, it was a simple made up game but we had such fun playing it, we were both giggling away and this little one would have kept playing for hours. It was so beautiful to watch the grace with which the child moved, the light in their body was like a little generator, just pure gaiety in being able to express joy with no holding back.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

    1. Mary it’s great to be able to hang out with children because they want you to play with them and it can be the simplest of games, but to just stop the ‘doing’ as you say and just be, is medicine for our bodies.

    2. I love watching my very young grandson playing, it is supporting the playful side of my younger son back out, who was a very playful toddler.

  16. 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.

    1. Why do we become so serious as we grow up, we are naturally playful when young, ‘We used to live like this when we were little – who said life had to be serious as we grew big?’

  17. 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!

      1. Young children are naturally playful, we can learn a lot from them, like are we being playful, ‘Does it make us feel joyful, vital, and restore and revive us? And if not, how can we learn to truly play again?’

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