Johan Huizinga, who wrote a book on the subject, defined play as follows:
a free activity standing quite consciously outside ëordinaryí life as being ënot seriousí but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly
Other books have urged the incorporation of more play into health and fitness routines, school activities, work activities, and of course social activities. Play is more engaging, easier to persevere with, more relaxing and stimulating and creative. It helps you to think differently.
We use the term to mean many things: hobbies, games, dancing, role-playing, roughhousing and other unstructured physical exercise (alone or socially), story-telling and other imagining and innovating activities, joking, flirting and other empathic activities, using toys, and a variety of sports and recreational activities. We say we ‘play’ a musical instrument. We contrast it to work, which is ‘serious’ activity. Yet for many play is fiercely competitive, and for them it is only ‘fun’ if you win. Is this still play?
A few years ago I wrote about Tom Robbins’ concept of ‘crazy wisdom’:
Robbins describes his personal experiences with near-suicidal depression, and how he was able to pull himself back from the brink of what he calls Weltschmerz (What a wonderful word! — per dictionary.com it means “Sadness over the evils of the world, especially as an expression of romantic pessimism.”) The trick was to rediscover playfulness, or what the Tibetan Buddhists call Crazy Wisdom. Robbins says it is “the wisdom that evolves when one, while refusing to avert one’s gaze from the sorrows and injustices of the world, insists on joy in spite of everything”.
Hmmm. For many people I know, what should properly be play (i.e. joyous and fun) is instead essential therapy for coping with their Weltschmerz:
In short, I think we’ve lost the practice, and forgotten the meaning, of play.
While I agree with John Perry Barlow that we should not pursue happiness for its own sake, I do think we should make more time for play.
How might we do this? I think most of us could probably learn from the masters — young children. Engaging with them, making stuff up with them, or just playing non-competitive games like hide & seek, can re-teach us the value of imagining just for fun. And the key to real play is imagination. And with children of course, the sillier the better.
Practicing a piece of music a thousand times is work, and while it is admirable if it leads to excellence, it is hardly play. Improvising with other musicians, on the other hand, just jamming and making it up as you go along is play — just look at the faces of those participating and you’ll know that immediately.
Companion animals (and even watching wild creatures) can also teach us about play. It’s how young creatures learn, effortlessly and safely and joyfully, but even older creatures indulge often in play, especially when they’re around the young.
Other improvisational activities — dancing, flirting, role-playing — balance imagination (breaking the rules and making stuff up) with the social and physical constraints (‘rules’) of each activity. The tension between them — knowing when to do what’s expected and when to interject the unexpected — is what makes them playful. The role-playing I do in the virtual world Second Life is most enjoyable when it’s creative, whimsical, clever — our island is mostly natural but has a kitschy flying submarine. Likewise, carnivals and masquerade parties and murder mystery evenings give you the chance tobe someone else — to get outside yourself and flex your imagination.
What other ideas do you have that could help us all put more play into our lives?
Category: Being Human
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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