The Importance of Play
Think of those times in your life when you were alone doing something you love; those times you remember being filled with nothing but sheer joy…maybe immersing yourself in a hobby, creating something new, walking through a serene landscape or simply sitting in silence.
How did you feel? Most likely, you weren’t thinking about your ‘to do’ list or worrying about things to come; you were in that moment fully and so whole-heartedly that the mere memory inspires that same emotion.
When you reminisce about those moments and that feeling, does time seem to stand still just as it did then?
It does for me and the memories are vivid. I’m riding bareback through a wooded trail or across a green field. There is no one around, just me, my four-legged companion and the nature that surrounds us. I think of nothing but each stride we take, the ground beneath us and the sky above; the wind in the leaves, the direction of my horse’s ears and the quiet peace that fills my soul.
Since the early age of eight, I’ve been fortunate to relive these moments many times throughout my life. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized why they mean so much…
They are timeless, and even the memory of those moments seems to stop the clock. It’s when I feel most in touch with my inner child and spirit. It is sheer joy. But, sadly, it’s has been years since I’ve done it.
What about you? When was the last time you engaged in that memory?
Play time is for kids
You may be thinking of a time in childhood when worries were few and time was vast. Now busy schedules and everyday life have us living by our calendars and even having to schedule leisure time. We are too busy, too important, and have too many people counting on us. Breaking away for a solitary activity may feel selfish or obscure. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is a happy talent to know how to play.”
Now, we’re are not talking about attending a dinner party or having drinks with your spouse or friends. While being social has its place, personal play time is for you and you alone, and it’s more important than you might think.
Many professionals agree that stopping the clock, taking a break from our routine and making time for play is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. It’s how we learned and grew as children and how we continue to do so
Think you don’t have time for timelessness? You don’t have time to make yourself sick,” says Blair Justice, PhD, professor of psychology and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health.
When we don’t take time for leisure, he says, daily stress can increase chemicals in our body such as cortisol and norepinephrine which can disrupt the immune system and cause you to feel edgy and hostile. He points to studies that show a link between high levels of such chemicals in the arteries and plaque buildup leading to heart disease.1
In his work with patients at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Justice says women with breast cancer often tell him that they were under a lot of pressure prior to being diagnosed. Stress may not have caused their illness, but it is reportedly an important factor among many (including genetics and the environment) that determine what happens inside the body.1
Personal play, on the other hand, can elevate levels of dopamine and serotonin, nerve transmitters known to have pleasurable and calming properties, and is essential to long-term mental and physical well-being. It is also shown to promote recovery and quality of life among those struggling with illness.1
Justice adds that people often take drugs and alcohol to raise serotonin and dopamine, but as we know, these effects are temporary and create more harm than good in the long run. “The healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature.”
Our sense of duty
Right now, you may be thinking ‘just another thing to add to my list,’ but personal play is the opposite of obligation. It’s turning inward, listening to your heart and taking part in something that you truly desire; something you know will make you happy and doesn’t require anyone else’s approval. It could be as simple as going to the park with your dog or starting a jigsaw puzzle; spending time in nature or revisiting that long lost hobby. Sometimes it’s as simple as stopping to close your eyes and just breathe.
Make your duties playful
Every morning, my dog reminds me that he needs his walk. For him (and me) it’s a non-negotiable obligation. My new awareness of the benefits of grounding has me searching for more ways to connect with Mother Earth, so I decided to start walking him barefoot. The difference in my mindset is unbelievable. I automatically spend more time thinking about each step and our surroundings than my ‘to do’ list. Now, I look forward to those walks as much as he does and don’t try to rush through them. It has become a very special time for us both.
Finding your own personal joy
“Joy is a divine quality of our true self, which is inherently lighthearted, playful, and free,” says Deepak Chopra, MD. “You can see the full expression of this joy in young children who haven’t learned to worry or take themselves too seriously. They play and laugh freely, finding wonder in the smallest things. They are infinitely creative because they haven’t yet built up the layers of conditioning that create limitations and restrictions. They are in touch with their intuition, which is a form of intelligence that goes beyond the rational mind. Far from being superficial or trivial, joy is an experience of our deepest spiritual nature.”3
He adds that the path to joy is about shifting our perspective from ego to spirit. “Our ego’s fear and insecurity cause it to puff up with self-importance and attempt to control the uncontrollable, while our spirit, knowing it is eternal and infinite, simply allows life to unfold. This creates a natural state of ease, which predisposes you to lightheartedness, joy, and laughter.”3
Give yourself permission to play. The result can be more time spent living in the moment, becoming aware of the endless opportunities for personal play that surround you, getting in touch with your true self, and letting go of time.
So, where are you going to play today?