Come Out and Play!

Come Out And Play!

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

                                                                                                        –George Bernard Shaw

 When was the last time you played?  With a friend?  A grandchild?  A pet?  I was inspired to write about playfulness this week by a couple of things.  One was a photo that an old high school friend posted on Facebook.  The photo showed my friend dancing with her friend, a la The Rockettes.  It was especially funny because they were both in their pj’s/night gowns.  I imagined that they were having a pajama party just like we used to have as young girls.  They looked like they were having great fun!

My other play-inspiring experience was my Book Club meeting.  The hostess for the meeting served us lunch, which is not typical for us.  We all really enjoyed sitting around her kitchen table, eating and talking together.  The bottles of Moscato wine did no harm either!

How Do You Define Play?

Dr. Stuart Brown, who has spent decades studying the power of play, stresses that what constitutes “play” will vary between individuals, but that it should be about the joy of the experience, rather than accomplishing a goal. As long as the activity you choose is “purposeless, fun and pleasurable,” then you will be reaping the benefits of play.

Our society tends to dismiss play for adults.  After all, once we reach adulthood, it’s time to get serious, right?  “The only kind [of play] we honor is competitive play,” according to Bowen F. White, MD, a medical doctor and author of Why Normal Isn’t Healthy

I think it’s a real shame that we tend to discount playfulness once we reach adulthood.  There is so much that we miss in life when we focus exclusively on achieving goals.  In his book Play, Dr. Brown compares play to oxygen. He writes, “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.”  This might seem surprising until you consider everything that constitutes play.  Play is art, books, movies, music, comedy, flirting and daydreaming, writes Dr. Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play

As an organizational development consultant, I led many team-building events with corporate groups.  One of my favorite games was The Maze, an event that not only promoted effective team member behaviors, but let the participants act silly with abandon. Eliminating the competitiveness that permeates American business enabled normally buttoned-up managers and teams to explore new ways to communicate, be creative, and build trust.  Plus, it was just plain fun!  It’s sort of like recess for adults!

How is Playfulness Related to Mindfulness?

Over the years, I’ve had many “red flags” that told me I would benefit by being more playful in my life.  Usually it was my husband or brother telling me to “lighten up.”  Once, when I was teaching a long-term supervisory training class, a participant asked me if I was “mad” about something.  She said that I rarely smiled, which led her to think I was unhappy with the class.  That feedback led me to some serious (as if I wasn’t serious enough!) self-reflection.  From then on, I deliberately smiled more and adopted a more light-hearted personal style.  Many years later, I shared a university faculty office with one of the funniest women I’ve ever met.  Our office laughter was well-known on our hallway of the School of Business Administration!  Enjoying our work experience together in ways that had nothing to do with our responsibilities kept us positive and focused during some stressful times.

The characteristics of playfulness and mindfulness are similar.  Both are about being “present,” enjoying and appreciating the moment as it occurs.  Both give us permission to be fully ourselves, e.g. letting go of the goals, rules, expectations, and the “shoulds” we so often impose upon ourselves.  In an interview with the Dalai Lama, CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta focused on the spiritual leader’s tendency toward good humor and his belief that play is essential.  “Basically, we are [a] social animal,” the Dalai Lama explained. To be playful, he said, is to “act like a human being.”

So give yourself permission to be playful!  Today!  In the next hour!  Excuse me while I go play with my dogs!

Song of the Seals

By Freddie Robinson

 You hear their playful squeals, splashing with amphibian glee 

The adolescent barks and cub yipes permeate the Antarctica spring

And the adults all give husky, baritone growls

Mindful parents whose sea passions are now also aroused 

High sun, ice melting … underwater covers meant for webbed feet

Torpedo chasing games of hide-and-seek among the semi-frozen reefs

Fish catching mastery amidst the giant icebergs

Songs of the seals, for miles and miles around, can be heard

Attracting even their fierce polar bear enemy

Song of the seals, sung with nature’s triumphant decree

Singing songs of survival to the vast, symphonic sea



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