The other day within an hour of being around a family friend’s child, the little boy approached me and with quiet earnestness asked, “Will you play with me?” As I nodded yes, he gently led me to the living room where his toys were scattered and we began to play. Although the toys were appealing what fascinated him most was the switch that could dim the lights. As he lowered the lights, making the room grow dark he pronounced, “Now it is night.” Taking my cue, I rolled over on my side and began to gently snore. Then the lights came back up. “Now it’s day.” I stretched out my arms and sighed, opened my eyes and said, “Good morning.” Looking at him I continued, “I’m hungry. Are you hungry? What shall we have for breakfast?” We settled on pancakes and bacon and then went through the procedure again. The lights dimmed, I snored, the lights came back up, I awakened and then we ate pancakes. We did this at least ten times proving yet again that Freud was not entirely clueless for repetition compulsion is most definitely an aspect of children’s play and a mechanism through which they can explore the events they observe on a daily basis.
It never fails to amaze me how much children yearn to play and need to play. It is not to be underestimated. The therapeutic benefits of play are profound which is why some of us psychotherapists use it as a central part of our work. But it isn’t just children who need to play. We all do. Animals. Children. Adults. All of us benefit from the intimate contact that comes through play as we enter the portals of our imaginations with another. So in a way, those five innocent words – “Will you play with me?” are like a secret password that if taken seriously initiate us into a very specific form of delight, exploration and experience of each other’s company.
The above words are a re-post from two years ago. They came to mind as I revisited the role of play in my own life. While all humans have the capacity for spontaneity and joy, life experiences can hinder the prominence and regularity of play in our lives. Trauma in fact, can abort it. I look back at my childhood and see patterns where play simply stopped. I think of the adults who would routinely say, “Not now, honey. We’ll play later,” and I remember when my mom started drinking to the point of black out. Focusing on my mom’s well-being became more important than slumber parties or dress up.
As adults, many things interfere with our abilities to play. We are told to grow up and get serious. There are bills to pay, chores to do, and things to look after. In my life, these attitudes were passed on to me in my DNA, costing me an acting career because to act for a living would be the height of frivolity, right? For many of us, play is something that comes at the end of the to do list and sometimes simply gets channeled into sex, the consummate form of adult recreation. We forget the deeper needs behind the simple words, “Will you play with me?” Instead of inviting others in, we tune them out or tell them they aren’t playing right. We tell them to get off the playground or that they’re not good enough for our team. Some of us break the rules and hurt others.
Play comes into our lives when we invite in the energy of the Divine; when we look at the ocean and see the way it dances. Play comes when we can relinquish worry and reclaim deeper pieces of ourselves. It is in fact, a serious matter.
It is serious play and how we master life.