We all did it at one time, and for many of us it is something we have grown out of. This week I’ve been chatting with a friend about play and he’s been talking about how he still likes to play hide and seek if he can find anyone who will play with him! It made me think of how much I miss that easy playfulness of childhood. As a gay man with no young relatives I hadn’t been able to explore play as an adult but over the last year I’ve volunteered with Beanstalk as a reading assistant in a school, meeting with three children twice a week for half an hour each. At the end of each session we would play a game, this was part of the Beanstalk approach, to make reading associated with fun. It has been great to experience that playful energy again. In one session we played tag and the fun of running around the playground and trying to avoid getting tagged was so refreshing! What was so lovely was to see how ready the children were to drop into play mode. As soon as I said reading was over and it was time for a game they would jump up and be asking what we would play.
I found it so easy to withdraw into seriousness and into myself as a teenager. Games suddenly meant playing football which terrified me or having to engage with the other boys which felt a threat. Even aged 10 and under I preferred to join the girls at break and play skipping rope games. I even took a doll in once but soon discovered that was a mistake!
One boyfriend of mine used to like to play at hiding when I came in and jumping out to surprise me. It was such a lovely spontaneous and joyful way of being together, and as adults we perhaps need to have the trust of a close relationship to once again feel permission to play.
When did you stop playing? Or do you still feel able to connect with this child like playfulness? Where can you go to let yourself play? When I googled ‘adults playful’ mostly what came up was references to tantric sex! It’s telling that for many the notion of playfulness as adults is only linked to sex. And as fun as that can be what about that playfulness we felt as children that was about exploring, letting go into the moment and feeling joy?
As part of the theme of falling in love with yourself, how about considering how you used to like to play and how you might reconnect with this energy now as an adult? My play used to be solitary – as an only child I had to entertain myself. It was using playing cards to make huge card towers and temple complexes on the sitting room floor, or running around the house with a lego hand held communicator imagining that I was the commander of a space ship that was under attack. When my cousins visited we would play out scenes from Dr Who until Paul refused anymore as he was always the monster and his sister Nicola was always the beautiful assistant to my Dr Who! So there was a mix of quiet, focused and still play in the building of card temples, and energy and vitality in chasing monsters! I can see these different energies as I look at these photos of myself as a child. As well as an early tendency to enjoy getting dressed up in hats!
I remember when play started to change, aged 10. A friend came over and I had my lego town laid out ready to play a game. He looked at it and said it was for children and so I ended up playing alone as he sulked. I still wanted to be able to enjoy my lego town, but this made me think for the first time that perhaps it was time to stop playing with it and started a process of loosing touch with this type of childhood play, where my own imagination created the game.
As an adult how do I still connect with this? The stillness and focus is there in my meditation. But I’ve tended to neglect the more boisterous play and I don’t do anything the is about creating an imaginative senario. Five Rhythms dance on a Friday night is giving me a way back to feeling the vitality and energy of play, and as it is interactive there is a chance to connect out to others in the dance in ways that are playful and boisterous.
I also like to bring some of this into my friendships but there is space for more!
How do you connect with your playfulness? Where does it show up in your life and where could you make more space for it?