I’ve got a question to ask and it’s about play. Yes, whether you make time for play (not rest) and if so – what do you do?*
I’m wondering because, although I HEAR the value of playing, I wonder whether we see this as something that kids need to do – that it is important to have down time, to relax and just do things for the fun of it? As adults, do we play much? Do we know how to? Does it matter, anyway?
Source (note – not quite what I was looking for – imagine the mess! – but this was one of the few images I could find that didn’t include Adam Sandler. Which is probably saying something in itself)
This question has been bugging me for the past few days, actually since I spent the last weekend in Hobart with some friends. For a fun escape. And which WAS fun – on the Saturday, definitely, because we had a plan. Early arrival, visit Salamanca market and surrounds in the morning, catch the ferry to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art), and after spending some time there, catch the ferry back again, drinks, and then dinner. All good.
Approaching MONA by boat
The weather was glorious, we’d had a chance to see bits of Hobart and eat some great turkish food at the market, without having to buy anything (important, as I was at my carry-on limit already), saw some ‘challenging’ art (some of which I liked, some of which I had no idea about – but that’s the purpose of MONA, I think), and also got to appreciate its setting and surrounds (which I loved more), and then, after some drinks on the ferry, and before dinner, the meal was lovely too.
It was a good day.
The next day, however, was a bit different. After a late brunch, the day was unplanned. And then I started to get a bit tense. I didn’t know what I wanted to do – on this, a mini holiday. This was no reflection on my friends, who I could have joined. But I’d been to Hobart before and, well, I just wasn’t in the mood to revisit what I’d seen (as wonderful as it was). I was away on a rare weekend without my family and I felt frustrated that I wasn’t having fun. I wanted to enjoy myself more – but doing what?
There were a lot of things I could and should do. I could have taken the opportunity to go for a run – but, even though I need to train for the fun run I have enrolled myself in, the idea of training did not seem like ‘fun’. Nor did dashing outside the city to see places I hadn’t been – because I should.
I guess I wanted to ‘play’ – but I didn’t know what I meant by that (and actually, I didn’t have the word ‘play’ in mind either – that came later)..
So I did what I often do when I don’t know what to do – I found a bookshop which I thought it might give me some ideas. Which it did, because I stumbled across Fullers Bookshop which is one of those great bookshops where you can take a pile of books, sit in a comfy lounge chair and just flick through them, with no one thinking anything of it.
And I came across a book called ‘Nothing to it: Ten ways to be at home with yourself’ by a buddhist monk called Brother Phap Hai. Which was not a book I would normally pick up, but I was attracted by the word ‘home’ in the title. (Tip – if you are writing a book, and want at least one reader – me – then somehow work the word ‘home’ in somewhere and I will buy it. Every time. Just thought I’d share that Just in case).
Anyway, I read the start of the book. Brother Hai informs us that, in the Buddhist tradition he follows, there are four parts to spiritual life, and all four are important. These four parts are ‘Study’ (learning the traditions), ‘Practice’ (which, as you’d expect, isn’t limited to meditation but also to practical actions to develop our awareness and heart), Work and service (the way we undertake what we do, how we interact and care for others), and Play. Yes, Play. One of the big four.
Play is slightly different to rest (which we need to do as well) – and it means activities which we find delightful, which nourish us, which give us joy. All of which seemed hard to me. Nothing seemed to be appealing, remember? But then he added ‘it is the practice of being ‘at ease’ ‘.
‘We think we are being ‘lazy’ but we spend all our time watching TV and reading books and writing emails and catching up on errands and paying the bills and seeing this or that person’.
He notes that, in many cases, this is not relaxing, and doesn’t put us at ease.
And a light went on. ‘At ease’ made sense (and his description rang all too true. I actually don’t watch TV much, and when I do, I am usually doing something else at the same time – ironing, or cleaning, or reading a book. I don’t tend to let myself just become absorbed in what I am watching). As for actively doing something for ‘fun’ and to ‘make me at ease’ – well, no. Not very often.
I think this idea of rest and play is consistent across a lot of philosophies, studies and religions (including mine, as a Christian, where we are encouraged to treat one day a week as a day where we rest).
Although I was still stuck in terms of what to do, on that day, I felt I could understand the intent. And I felt as though it was something I needed to do more of. So, for the rest of the day, what I did was just to do very little.
I left the bookshop (with one book only), and then wandered. Without a map (Hobart isn’t very big), without any particular destinations in mind, without taking any photos (because I often take them because I think I ‘should’), going into any shop or down any little lane that took my fancy (including one fudge shop that opened up, despite having closed half an hour prior, and which had the best fudge. Score!)
I stopped for a while. The weather was becoming overcast, so I didn’t feel like just lying down and enjoying the scenery, but I read my book for a while.
And I remembered something I’d read about about this, by Brené Brown. Which, again, adds strength to the argument because I am a big fan of Dr Brown. I looked up the article when I got home and found that, like me, she does (or did, when she was writing) feel the need to be productive at all times. And feels guilty if she is not being productive. But she notes that:
Play — doing things just because they’re fun and not because they’ll help achieve a goal — is vital to human development…. Play can mean snorkeling, scrapbooking or solving crossword puzzles; it’s anything that makes us lose track of time and self-consciousness, creating the clearing where ideas are born.
Scrapbooking would not be my idea of fun, but I know where she is coming from. And I think that so much of play is the intent in which it is undertaken, rather than necessarily the activity itself. For instance:
- I’ve realised that reading, always my fall back, has become a bit of an obligation lately – I’ve joined too many different groups, and feel like I am just trying to keep up. Although I always need to read a little at night before sleep (it’s become a winding down habit), I might pull back on this for a while – it’s no longer ‘play’.
- My other main activity, gardening, has become less enjoyable for the opposite reason. It is squeezed into small moments and is something I often do out of a feeling of obligation or irritation at the state the garden has got to. Maybe I need to spend more time on this instead?
- Trying new things is more fun if I leave enough time for it – I don’t become as frazzled at the thought of whether I am doing it right, whether I will have to stop mid way, leaving a mess in the process, and so on. Clearing time will be important.
- When I am with other people, if I focus more on them than on whether I am feeling self conscious, or whether I am having ‘fun’, I can let down my guard to some degree, and then joking and fun happens more often. When I am feeling shy (outside the family) or rushed (within it), these interactions do not feel like fun, and there is not a lot of play.
I was grateful for the realisation, and I do think play is really important.
I now need to think about what form might work for me.
So, over to you!
I am open to suggestions. What do you do for play? What would you recommend?
And how have you overcome the ‘need to be purposeful and productive at all times’ urge (and where has that come from?)
* Bearing in mind that this post may or may not be shared with my kids – there are some changes I’d love to introduce to increase the playfulness in the family, but I don’t want to muddle things up with the sex ed talks we are starting to have – so it would be great if you didn’t focus on THAT sort of play!