I had some counselling at The Haven in Fulham the other week, a welcome space to talk with someone who doesn’t know me about the events of the last few months. There were lots of tears, a few insights and a question that has stuck with me since: what do you do to play?
Play is something that we do for no reason other than wanting to do it. Play is an end in itself, not a means to an end, although it can have positive benefits. I think of play as being light-hearted and frivolous in the sense of not needing to have any serious purpose or intent behind it. The difference between work and play is not what you do, but why you do it. Children don’t have to be taught to play, and one of the gifts they give us is drawing us into their play. As we get older, we tend to play less but lose out on something life-giving as a result. My friend Sonia is an early years specialist and she’s written about adults and play on her blog.
I posed the same question on my Facebook page which generated a delightful list of the ways in which my friends play. Here are some of them: felting, reading, crunching in leaves around the meadow by our house, cooking and baking, playing ping pong on the dining room table, doodling, dancing round the house to loud music, making cocktails, playing with grandchildren, walking, cycling, gardening, feeding squirrels, swimming in rivers, writing silly verses for friends’ birthdays, visiting art galleries, dancing to disco music, taking £5 into Poundland and grabbing what suits, crafts, colouring, helping out at a children’s club, photographing beauty, picking the fabric for a new sewing project, physical and sensual things such as sailing, making music, popping round to my neighbours for coffee, piano playing, horse riding, jigsaws.
Another friend on Twitter reminded me that according to Mark Rowlands, running is the very definition of play because its only true end is itself. Some of my running is definitely very playful, particularly cross country when it’s muddy and wet because for me it’s all about the experience rather than the competition. The photo above is from a race at Parliament Hill last year where you just had to surrender to getting completely soaked and covered in mud. Just thinking about it makes me smile. But when my running gets too focused on goals and training plans and mileage it can lose that light-heartedness and being about the moment. The counsellor said to me, ‘even your running sounds hardcore.’ Food for thought.
Life has been very serious around here for far too long. I’m not going to write a list of ways in which I intend to play because that doesn’t feel very playful but perhaps writing this will remind me to make more space to play.