Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Serious play

"Play is freely chosen, intrinsically motivated and personally directed"

Last week in the midst of completing my previous article I went for a walk. A headache had developed & I needed some fresh air. A short distance into my 'planned' walk I decided to switch over to 'gut feeling' mode - something I've been trying to do, especially on weak-ends when I have a small patch of relatively uninterrupted time.

For me gut feeling involves becoming aware of my midriff area & waiting for a pull or tug which gives directions. Sure enough I felt a tug (that's 'gut' in reverse) to turn down a road I have only ever walked once before. At the bottom of the road were two boys busily engaged in transforming the footpath into a giant Picassoesque canvas. They looked up as I passed & I felt a comment was in order.

"You've been busy" said I & they proudly & seriously agreed. It seems they were on a mission to create a numerical walkway & indeed there were loads of chalk boxes each individually numbered. They informed me that it was their intention to get up to 100. Doing the 'kindly adult' thing I said "Great" & that I would return that way later & take another look.

I walked on feeling satisfied in this friendly interlude, until I came to the bottom of the road & followed a pathway that led I knew not where. There as I walked through nature I began to feel a little ashamed, for I now realised that I'd slipped neatly into the condescending adult role of viewing 'child's play' as cute. I thought of the seriousness with which these two small people had imbued their activity & I got to wondering if the play of children might in fact be essential to the energy in this world - could it be that play generates a positive energy like that found around waterfalls? Could creative play be responsible for the beauty we see in this world & likewise could the dull energy created by most adults be a huge contributing factor to the ills of this world - a mass negative pollution? Could it be that children are maintaining the 'quality' energy in this world? (I'm sure animals have a tremendous input too, but humans do seem to create on an extraordinary level).

When I read Matthew Delooze's new article later that same week I was blown away;

"I need, we need, to connect with the elements on a spiritual level. I was being shown that we need to retain the spiritual energy that is being sucked from us. The energy we create to feed our planet is being stolen, therefore we starve ourselves spiritually because we starve this world spiritually. I was shown again that that our energy is created with the intent to feed this planet, our world, and not feed the deceivers that are stealing it from us."

I was also shown how we all 'equally' create these rainbow rods through our emotions but instead of these rods feeding and continuously healing our world, as they should, they simply feed another world. A parasite is stealing the world's spiritual energy."

"It's time for 'us' to provide the medicine the world needs. It's time for us all to give our love to the planet and also the elements that make our physical world possible."

In an ideal world (which this is not - currently) we would all willingly contribute to it's balancing & energising - I'm reminded of a rain forest & the interdependence that nurtures it. We however, are not in balance & I shudder to think what we would see if we really knew how to use our eyes.

Later in the week I found myself once more doing the 'nice' adult thing to a 5 year old child & I did shudder. So it's time to look seriously at play.

Have you noticed how the word play has been fucked with (a strong word perhaps, but I feel necessary) by the media? - it has done a neat little job too of splintering play into two dodgy areas - one, by linking it to 'childishness' & thereby making it too hot to handle by any self-respecting adult. The other is by using it as a term for the sex industry - terms like playboy & playbunny may hint at lots of fun romps, but this play is highly selective & you can only play if you have a perfect body or a shitload of money.

If this David doesn't have a Goliath-size bank account then a sling shot is the only thing he'll be playing with tonight.

I've looked up play on the Internet but they don't half go on in big words, so I thought I'd just pop in a few thoughts before getting on. I'm guessing most of us link the word play to children, young children - an image of kids absorbed in some messy activity or racing like lunatics, springs to mind. Nowhere is there a sense of order, structure, permanence or 'To Do' lists which makes it a tad frightening for us big people.

Yet it was the seriousness that really struck me about play. I'd gotten so used to the idea that it has a frivolous quality, that even though I could see the intensity, it didn't register. But play has this laser like focus where all the senses are intensely involved, shaking someone out of play is akin to shaking them out of sleep.

Etymologically we find serious - "1440, "expressing earnest purpose or thought" (of persons), from M.Fr. sérieux "grave, earnest". This is the element that I have found so confusing - wtf has seriousness got to do with play & how did I miss it? Lets look at the words given for sérieux - first there's 'grave' (the adjective not the noun as that's a dead end) - "1541, from M.Fr. grave, from L. gravis "weighty, serious, heavy" & then there's 'earnest' - "O.E. eornoste (adj.) from a noun eornost "passion, zeal".

How's your maths? Lets see

Weighty + Heavy x Passion + Zeal = Play = wtf!

that can't be right. Surely the equation looks something like this:

Frivolity + Childishness x Lightweight +Chaotic = Play.

My grounding (down) into adulthood came with the understanding that I would 'put away childish things' & 'get serious', however what I'm starting to wonder about is "should 'seriousness' be taken more seriously?"

I've plodded away at this article a bit, I must admit. I have another one on my mind that needs completing, & have not been giving it my full attention, hence it has not flowed as usual. I 'clicked' last night that unless I got serious about it I would not be able to finish it & that's the thing - in all my life nothing I care about has gotten done well without my getting serious about it. When I put weighty zeal behind something then... Look out!

In a conversation with my son last night, I suggested that 'you can't do something well unless you take it seriously' - he then refined & redefined it as 'you can't 'get into' something unless you take it seriously' & I got this aha feeling as if the 'get into' was like a password on a computer or some kind of entry system where you must take something seriously before you could access it.

Is this why we have lost our connection to play - because we're just NOT serious about it. As children I'm quite sure we'd have virtually sold our souls in order to play, now it seems a great part of our disrespect for play comes from having sold our (adult) souls to society (which rates industriousness, productivity & 'success' as it's crowning achievements). I will stick my neck out here & say that I think play is the Enemy of THIS State (known more commonly as the Modern World).

Some more etymology:

Play - "Meaning "free or unimpeded movement"
Move - "from L. movere "move, set in motion"

An idea has presented itself to me today that perhaps play is no thing at all, but rather an attitude or approach. Is this the secret of children? - that they approach experience from an attitude of 'serious enthusiasm' - SO serious that almost any task can be turned into an adventure? I remember years ago asking my son, who was about 7 years old at the time, to wash the dishes. I found him quite some time later with a sink full of dishes, singing & chattering merrily to himself. The water was cold & the dishes greasy, but hey I've never had that sort of pleasure washing dishes.

Taking this idea a step further it seems that a playful approach widens an event - it takes the accepted confines, boundaries or results of an event & throws them out the window. In their place a new adventure is conceived & set in motion. Have you noticed how our adult life revolves around reacting to things that already exist. A quick resume of 'childishness' might read something like excessive enthusiasm, embarrassing candidness, no sense of image consciousness & a desire to lay hands on everything in site - no object is 'sacred' - all is fair play.

Some quotes by like-minded people:

"Sudbury model of democratic education schools assert that play is a big part of life at their schools where it is seen as a serious business. They maintain that play is always serious for kids, as well as for adults who haven't forgotten how to play, and much of the learning going on at these schools is done through play. So they don't interfere with it."

"play is commonly oft-defined as a frivolous and non serious activity; yet when watching children at play, one is impressed at their transfixed seriousness and entrancing absorption with which they engage in it."

"James Findlay, a Social Educator, defines play as a meta intelligence, suggesting that play is behind, together with, and changes, the various multiple intelligences we have."

"In giving primacy to adult knowledge, to our 'grown-up' ways of seeing the world, have we forgotten how to value other kinds of wisdom? Do we still care about the small secret corners of children's wisdom?"

The closest adults seem to be permitted to play is through hobbies or organised sports. I don't like the word 'hobby' - it has an 'isn't it cute' feel to it - something to amuse oneself in their 'spare time' or so one has 'an interest.' Etymologically it's even worse -"1298, "small horse, pony," later "mock horse used in the morris dance," and c.1550 "child's toy riding horse," which led to a transferred sense of "favorite pastime or avocation," first recorded 1676. The connecting notion being "activity that doesn't go anywhere." Another word that popped up with hobby was 'fad' - "1834, "hobby, pet project;" 1881 as "fashion, craze," perhaps shortened from fiddle-faddle. Or perhaps from Fr. fadaise "trifle, nonsense," ult. from L. fatuus "stupid" - our attitudes to play in a nutshell.

There is of course 'sports', but I think that's just more word-play. Once upon a time it had the same connotation as a 'hobby' "c.1440, "pleasant passtime," now it's more of an organised & regulated activity - quite a long way down the track from pleasant pastimes.

I must admit that I don't remember how to play, the closest I have got so far is in this blog where a passion for truth is combined with an intense focus & openness for exploring ideas. I do however feel that our bodies are absolutely essential to play & if we could ease up on our minds, our bodies may well help us re balance & rekindle a playful attitude. Watch any child or animal absorbed in serious enthusiasm & I'll wager you won't find a division between mind & body anywhere. We do get there too - sometimes - I've seen the light go on in 'grown-ups' faces when they've unbuttoned themselves but I've also seen it snap off when they zipped themselves back up again.

I'm just wondering if perhaps it's time to ponder a little on getting serious about play.