Driving home recently I caught a glimpse of a little girl standing in the late afternoon sun playing with a garden hose. It seemed she was not so much watering the grass as entranced by the sunlight bouncing off the water spray. Instantly it hit me, another reason for the fascination we have with the little ones. Their entire experience is about discovery! We associate play primarily with the freedom of childhood but then I saw an important aspect of that play is discovery, discovering the wonder of the universe!
From the time we enter this earthly experience to the beginnings of adulthood we’re all focused on figuring how things work, what they do, how it all including ourselves function. We play with our food, or throw it on the floor (Wonder what will happen if I do that?); we want to know why, why, why. Curiosity rules each day as we announce, “I’m awake, let’s play!”
I felt right there with the girl in the yard watching the dance of sunbeams and water drops, just as I had a few weeks earlier watching another wee one at the stroller stage being led by her taller relatives to a tiny stone footbridge in a local park. No more than ten yards give or take, but very steep, such that coming down even I had to watch my steps wearing loose sandals. She waddled up and they all disappeared on the other side. Then I saw them come back holding her hands as she carefully made her way down the steep incline. She handled it like a trooper, delighted at discovering something new to do, so of course she had to try it again. And again, and again, on her own. Discovery. Delight. The world had expanded. And her delight became my delight!
It would seem once we reach a certain age this ability to delight in simple, new things diminishes. On the one hand we start having to pick up our own tab. On the other, we think we know it all. We think we’ve learned all there is to know and shut off the spigot on learning, experimenting, discovering, in exchange for showing off our new prowess, telling the young and everyone else how it’s done. As if we know so much already. Life has gotten serious.
A number of play specialists have surfaced in recent years promoting the importance of play for adults, that we’re missing an important element of healthy functioning, creativity, and interaction. I was curious how they defined play and a bit delighted to see there’s difficulty, that like love its one of those tangible intangibles, it probably can only be defined experientially.
At its simplest, play is engaging in joyful abandon, but watching those two little girls, I suddenly felt perhaps we’re hot-wired for playing, for celebrating what’s already been created. Just about everything we can think of has evolved from curiosity as well as need, to see what’s beyond, behind, underneath, within. Like Picasso and others we’re made to fool around and see what happens if I move this over there! We’re programmed to dis-cover, from new countries and new foods, to new peoples, cyberspace, and space itself. Many if not most of the major “advances” or discoveries have come from those with a taste for foolin around, experimenting, seeing what might happen. Abandoning the rules and standards.
It’s unfortunate our lives as adults are taken over by the need for keeping the lid on it, for order and predictability to make sure there’s enough. Enough money and success, enough love and health. That and the need to compete, to prove oneself. We dare not take many chances, end up out in the cold, lose the job, or the guy. I realized how much of my own play as a child was lost to just those needs, preparation to “make it” out in the world. Whether it was dance, the piano, or playing in the band, it lost its magic over the need to perform on a stage, to impress, or compete to be the best. Important qualities to develop, but there needs to be a balance, a freedom to just see what happens and trust the universe.
More of this fun exploration is to come delving into my tangible intangibles, aided by the Brussat’s Spiritual Alphabet referenced before. It happily includes the concept of play. Like them and many others I’m promoting the idea that we try living from a different standard, one run from native wiring, rather than outside programming, recognizing the true universe was designed and is controlled by something cleverer and more ingenious than we. Our real job is to get out and discover it!