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?

800 thoughts on “Learning to Play Again

    1. It is so normal to remain in the latter and it doesn’t matter how old we are we can be serious nevertheless.

  1. I can say that I often live my day in a far too serious manner – and so playfullness is a key way for me to bring in some spunk and sass into every moment! Thanks for the reminder Anne!

  2. “playing golf, which in some opinions, is just an expensive way to spoil a good walk.” – Anne this is hilarious, though not so sure golfers would agree! 😉

  3. Cleverness seems to overtake silliness somewhere along the line and we forget how to be playful. Games are mostly competitive and can become very serious, pitting one team against another or even one person against another. There is a lot of money invested in something like the Olympic Games, but actually have these not become very serious too, with people taking drugs and other forms of cheating going on ? And where is the joy in this?

  4. What came to me when I re read this blog was, if we would allow children to play at school instead of trying to put them in a box all day long, would the teenager need to hang out, dance and act out in a way that doesn’t support them, still be there?

  5. I love this blog Anne. What a wonderful thing to be reminded of – to keep things light and playful. So many intense situations can be diffused through keeping things light.

  6. After reading this I feel being playfull is just keeping it light with/in our being, yes of course there will be moments when a seriousness is needed but in keeping it light playfulness can be in an instant in all that we do. I love being playfull.

  7. Observing how innately playful children are is a great reminder to bring out the playfulness within me.

    1. Spot on Fiona! My son is a constant reminder for me to be more playful, to have more fun and to smile and enjoy life despite all the challenges we face! And so many other children out there are just like him – super light and with the openness to life that allows it to be filled with fun and laughter. After all, don’t they say that laughter is the best medicine!

  8. Approaching life with a playfulness and lightness is far more enjoyable than being bogged down in a fog of seriousness.

  9. Just yesterday some of my friends and I took a coworker out for an ‘appreciation lunch’ as he was leaving for another job. What I expressed to him was how much I loved how he had an uncanny ability to always keep things light and playful in the tool/parts room that he worked in, even amongst sometimes stressful situations trying to accommodate all the needs of the mechanics flooding in there at times. There were days that I was having a stressful and sometimes heavy time and his lightness of being inspired me to put things in a wider perspective and not get so caught up in a small issue. This is the power of playfulness, for sure.

    1. I work with people like this and I really appreciate how it keeps the situation light when we are under pressure to deliver within a certain time frame. I really appreciate the team I have around me and all their difference qualities.

  10. From the few times I remember when play was fun when I was growing up is still a blur, but I recall we played with the most simple things. I haven’t had this experience since. It is different now, it doesn’t involve anything but it involves the key item, me….Without perfection my perception of play has changed and I love the discovery as it unfolds.

  11. Being playful means being open and vulnerable with yourself. It means to be seen for all of your silliness and to not be ticking all the boxes that society has set for you. So, perhaps there is an element of trust involved in being playful, in knowing that you can be freely you and not be judged or rejected. But the reality is that judgement and rejection do come, no matter what we do or say. So the key is maybe to just trust yourself, to know that you are lovely and being playful is just a part of that expression.

  12. It is a beautiful feeling when the lightness and joy of playfulness returns to us through our body, and we can truly feel the difference in the way that we move.

  13. As a child and a teenager I was always ‘playing’ and had a very light hearted approach to life. But as I got older I became much more serious and caught up in life by being very ‘sensible’ as one friend of mine put it. So to reconnect with the innate playfulness now that has always been within me invariably brings a lightness to even more challenging situations, and enables others to let go and see the lighter aspects of life and what it offers us.

  14. It is a huge misconception, one that I certainly subscribed to, to think that we need to set aside time to be able to play and that it otherwise means that we are not taking work or life seriously. Yet everything that you have wisely shared makes sense, that our lightness of being is with us every where we are, and with this as is our playfulness, the natural movement and effervescence of the joy we are, born of our connection to our Divine Love.

  15. I recognise how I am bringing playfullness back into my life and how much joy there is in this way of being.

  16. I love this blog Anne, cause it highlights how we have separated life into bits of work, play, leisure etc. When we live one life, play can be a quality of the movement through our lives.

  17. Being playful is our true nature, it is when we separate from simply being with ourselves that we lose the connection to our natural lightness of being.

  18. We make life all about ‘growing up’ but truly we would be better off calling it ‘getting small’ because we reduce down so greatly the way we live. How ironic that we pursue some intellectual nirvana when we had every joy we ever could know right at day one. Here’s to playing big everyday Anne – hooray!

  19. How strange is that? We knew how to play as children and yet disconnected from that and then adopted new versions of play in the forms of sport, recreation and hobbies?

  20. I love these two ways (that you have listed Anne) that the word ‘play’ is used: ‘the space in or through which a mechanism can or does move light and constantly changing movement.’ The word play in these contexts gives such a beautiful spacious, graceful and light feeling. With its use for a dramatic performance a whole different sense of charade comes out, leading to other shades of meaning such as to play with or ‘toy’ with someone or something for sport – and the origin of the word ‘sport’ (which can be related in certain ways to play) is also interesting: it is from disport “amusement”, a contraction from Middle English disporten from Old French desporter “to take away”, “to distract from the work”. That says it all in one – sport is a distraction away from the work!

  21. Reading this what I can really appreciate is how my playfulness is back! When I was a child yes it was definitely there then growing up this got completely lost. Being ‘playful’ as a teenager was not cool! And as the years went on I become more serious … but now years later I have naturally got this back from re-connecting to the truth of who I am and I am loving it ✨

  22. As the light of the Moon plays across the Earth as a reflection of the Sun so too can we allow our light to move and play with all we meet.

  23. I also . . . “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.”
    If we see ourselves as light we understand that life is but a play of light in space!

  24. What a breath of fresh air to read this blog again. Play is such a crucial part of our daily lives. Play, goodwill, love, surrender. What can only result is true intelligence and a way to step forward in our evolution.

  25. Yes, I agree Anne! Let’s bring the joy and playfulness back into life and let go of the drudge, the control and intensity that is causing so many meltdowns all over the place. This would lift all our relationships back into a lightness of being.

    1. Absolutely Kathleen. And when re-discovered everyone you meet also becomes a long list of long-lost friends.

  26. I remember this feeling of ‘everything is play’ when i was child. I also remember at school there was this known rule that now was ‘playtime’ and now is ‘face the front and work’ and the separation between the two and how this plays out later in life. We end up seeing ‘work’ and ‘play’ differently and it means we live life in separate compartments; it is no longer all one and the same. It means we grow up to switch on and off in life, to separate between jobs and the things we do, we give one more importance over another, we measure what we do and so on. In this way life becomes quite mundane because by doing this, even our ‘play’ has lost its true meaning.

  27. Being playful is not everywhere appreciated and I think I do know why. It is because it reminds us of our natural origin, that is playful, innocent, full of love and in deep relationship with God. A way of being we all know so well but have left behind because we have chosen to create this life we all now have together and do not want to give up.

  28. I can feel the truth of what you are here presenting Anne, there is definitively something going wrong in our upbringing as many or maybe all of the people I know, have lost that natural ability of going playfully through life and I face a lot of seriousness instead.

  29. “Perhaps this is the key to living life in full and ageing grace-fully – learning to play again!” – I reckon so Anne!! The way we live definitely comes from the way we feel about ourselves and relate to others… if that quality is playfulness, life is also this too.

  30. Thank you Anne what a great invitation to explore being more playful and letting go of the heavy seriousness that has infected so much of my adult life.

  31. I remember playing as a child but disliking games that had lots of rules – suddenly it became not so playful so I would not enjoy it, or choose to play something else. Being playful in life keeps things light and fun.

    1. I like what you bring to the fore Susan, not only the rules that came in the games but also the right and wrong, the judgement and competition that came into it made me disliking to play any longer and made my playfulness slowly disappear.

      1. I noticed as soon as people felt they had to win, then everything changed, an ugliness was felt, and the closeness in relationship fell apart.

      2. Yes I know that too, and I have played that game as well in order to fit in, but it never gave any satisfaction, only a temporary relief when the game was over and the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ where defined.

  32. You only have to watch young children walk to school to see that they have a spring in their step and often skip everywhere. The lightness they have seems to say that they have more energy than an adult does – so, maybe we should take a leaf out of their book.

  33. A timely reminder that as children “Life was play” as I can see that I haven’t been playing enough lately. It seems that the serious child that I was, is trying to sneak back into my life again. So I feel that it’s time to hang out with the young children in my life and watch them play; I am sure that they will inspire to drop the seriousness and embrace the joy!

  34. The world is so serious that it is easy to think that is what we are and that we are wrong and taking things too lightly but what if playfulness is part of our natural way of being?

  35. I like to look and explore the quality of something, be it a word, movement, idea, we spend too much time thinking we know everything without checking in on the quality of what it is we are choosing. I love what you share and explore concerning the word ‘play’, it is light and flowing in quality when we we feel the truth of it, its movement is unimposing, this is how playful can be.

  36. I watch my daughter find joy in taking a cleaning cloth and cleaning the floor or helping me hang up washing or pack away toys. It reflects to me that we seem to categorise things – to label them as fun or not fun and as soon as we do that, we start to associate things we used to find joy in with a chore. But perhaps all is needed is bringing the playfulness back – knowing that when we clean we are cleaning for everyone, we are clearing spaces and energy and even our heads.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

    1. Agreed Jenny, everything we live in life is one and the same, one activity is no different to the other when it comes down to the quality of how we are living it.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

    1. For me the seriousness feels like a brick wall that separates me from other people. Allowing myself to have a silly moment with a child just about to cry in the shop, suddenly the world doesn’t feel so enclosed or in my own bubble as before. Playfulness can connect us.

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

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