The Importance of Play
Raise your hands if you ever laughed at the thought of play as something important or productive? I will wait. Well hello there fellow Type-A brothers and sisters! Yes, I too, laughed at the thought of play. I considered it way too wasteful of an activity for my all-too-important, super-busy, and goal-oriented way of life. I can even recall being on vacation with friends, watching them play a card game or dominoes, being invited to play but I just couldn't bring myself to enjoy games so I wouldn't participate. How can I just sit here and waste valuable time? Don't you know that there are more important things I've got going on, things that need to get done, goals to be met? Yes, loves, this was my internal narrative at the thought of play.
As a reformed Type A, I now understand just how wrong I was. In the self-love journey to wholeness, there can be found many contributions by gifted authors, researchers and speakers as to exactly why play is so important. In Brene Brown's, The Gifts of Imperfection, she discusses this as one of the guideposts to wholehearted living; play is about incorporating an activity that cultivates rest and rejuvenation. Learning to enjoy play means engaging in activity solely for enjoyment and recreation, and not one of our many tasks, goals or need for accomplishment. Brown sources Dr. Stuart Brown's take on the matter, and found that there are seven properties that encompass play:
1) it is purposeless
3) there is an inherent attraction to it
4) doing it allows freedom of time (no time constraint or deadline)
5) takes the attention off of yourself and your deadlines
6) its improvisational, open-ended and not rigid
7) it is desirable, encourages you to do it more
Dr. Stuart Brown explains that while play can be creative, it doesn't HAVE to be. It could just be something enjoyable. Taking time for play shapes our brains, fosters joy, creativity and innovation, and is essential to our overall health. The problem with play, according to Brene Brown, is that as adults we simply to do not place value on it. We live in a culture where burnout and exhaustion are status symbols of our success. If we are running around like crazy, working long hours, trying to meet every deadline, every need, and losing sleep keeping up with our ever-so-important lives, then we are obviously successful, right? WRONG! Eventually, this way of life will catch up with us and we will experience burnout. I've said it before, and I will say it again, if you don't take care of yourself you will not be able to take care of ANYONE or ANYTHING else.
When I realized that this was the pattern I was living in, I knew that a change needed to come. I had to change the way I thought about play and learn to appreciate it as much as sleep. I know that I need atleast 7 hours of sleep to function at my best the following day, so in the spirit of making time and space to become the best version of myself -- I had to appreciate play as a part of self-care. I hadn't thought about what I truly enjoyed doing in so long. With family, social calendar, work, school, laundry, groceries, cooking meals, kids' school activities.....I just hadn't given myself time to think about what I REALLY enjoy doing. After a few days of journaling, meditation, and prayer; I was led to look at some old pictures of myself as a child. I saw pictures of myself singing, dancing, and reading. There it is! I love music. I love to dance. I enjoy reading books...and I love to write. I find that art is where my play is. The closer I am to art, the more my heart feels like it's playing. And so, I made a decision to seek out the art of authors whose work I found inspiring, I went to the movies more, I attended more shows, and allowed myself to appreciate the art that these talented writers, composers, actors, dancers and musicians had to offer the world. Being in the midst of their art, gave me space to play. Finding inspiration and joy in art and writing, was such a contrast to my Type A-business-woman lifestyle, that it imeediately intrigued me. It was so wrong, yet felt so right.
The biggest change occurred when I realized that my ability to appreciate play allowed my daughters to dream, create, and indulge in play freely. We enjoy music together. We enjoy dance together. One of the special moments I shared with them is when we watched the movie LaLa Land in theater. This movie is so beautiful and special, that when I watched it I didn't feel like I was watching a movie -- I felt like I was 'experiencing' it. The music, the dancing, the acting, the love story and understanding what it's like to dream of a life where one can live their art freely. I empathized with Emma Stone's character, "Mia", as she rigorously pursued her desire to be an actress. I also empathized with Ryan Gosling's character, "Sebastian", and his desire to keep jazz alive somehow. I was just as touched at their love story and how they encouraged one another to keep going, don't lose hope and fight to keep their dreams alive. This movie made such an impact on my daughters and I! We listened to the soundtrack constantly, and even went to a live show where we got to watch a 100-piece orchestra play the entire soundtrack. The dancers came out and performed, the singers all sang, there was color, fireworks and beauty. An experience, that gave me space to dream, smile, dance, and be in awe of all the talent in the world.
This understanding and appreciation of play has now become something I practice regularly. I make time to read, I enjoy dancing, I have a desire to look at art, listen to music and zone out for a while, and I write...I write to express how this art is making my life meaningful and beautiful -- rather than consider it a waste of time, I now appreciate its purpose in my life. I can take this understanding and cultivate the desire to 'dream' in my daughters' lives, to let them zone out in art as well, and do it for no apparent reason other than because we find it to be beautiful. I have LaLa Land to thank for this revelation, for opening my eyes and putting all my play tactics in one place. When I finish school I would like to enroll in a ballroom dancing class, and I have considered turning my garage into a make-shift dance studio where my daughters and I could practice all the YouTube routines we learn together and bond while doing it. The beauty about play is that you can make it whenever, and wherever you want.
So what do you enjoy? Do you like to cook? Do you enjoy painting? Interior design? Making jewelry? Writing poetry? Sports? Playing an instrument? What brings you purposeless joy? Think about it for a while. Write it down in a journal. Look back at old pictures of your childhood. Ask your parents if they can recall hobbies that you enjoyed when you were a kid. Try to appreciate the 'slash(/)' in your life:
-You can be a doctor/chef: treating patients during the day, while creating beautiful gourmet dishes in your kitchen at night
-You can be an attorney/salsa dancer: litigating cases during the day, then putting on some dance shoes and strutting your stuff on the dance floor in a local salsa class
-You can be an administrative assistant/painter: during the day you answer phones, file, and do data entry, but at night you find your freedom of expression on a blank canvas
-You can be a mechanic/musician: fixing cars during the day, and play an instrument at night for fun
What's your slash (/)? Mine is this....I am a sales professional/self-love advocate and writer (among other things like wife, mom, etc). I am grateful that my play is embedded in the arts. Enjoying the contributing arts of others, while cultivating and inspiring others through my own.
Find your play. Find what makes you both come alive and enjoy rest, all at the same time. Don't let burnout take over your life. Self-love requires space to sit and just enjoy. Purposeless recreation. Joyful engagement. As I sit here writing this blog, and listening to the soundtrack to LaLa Land, I will end with a notable lyric that ties this message together:
Here's to the one's who dream.
Foolish as they may seem.
Here's to the hearts that ache.
Here's to the mess we make.
Find your mess, and fall in love.