I lost my playfulness pretty early in life. Something to do with figuring out there was a “right” way to do things, or that I was easier to manage without my big bright and often messy ideas. Either way, it became obvious to me that taking risks was too risky and I would get further in life if I could figure out what others wanted and meet those expectations.
Maybe some of you can relate.
It’s rather an exhausting way to live, with little room for mistakes, and not a lot of room for questions. If yellow was the colour of playfulness and curiosity, I had lost it somewhere along the way to adolescence and by adulthood, my world was pretty black and white. I dare not sing lest someone find me off-tune. I dare not draw or paint or act or … well, anything that might show my lack of “talent”.
Fast forward some years to where I find myself with young children of my own. Still very driven and outcome-based, I started to occasionally catch glimpses of yellow again, finding joy in reading bedtime stories out loud and playing with the characters’ voices, or singing songs to my girls (who seemed oblivious to whether my pitch was perfect or not). I found myself envious at times of their ability to enter into free play as I watched from a distance, for it seemed to come so easily to them.
Ever so slowly, the yellow began to find its way back into my life — through my children’s laughter, the magic of spinning wool into yarn, the absurdity of chickens dancing on the lawn. I’m not sure if there was ever a full arriving moment … it was more of a gradual recovery and remembering until playfulness simply became a way of life.
Until I lost it again.
There are times in our lives when something can happen that upends us: a relationship break-up, a diagnosis, the loss of some thing, some place or some one we hold dear. This can happen at any age. At any time. We can lose our playfulness in those moments (or months). Our body retreats into survival mode and peddles hard just to keep some semblance of order and normality. Anything playful feels frivolous, or ludicrous, or inappropriate.
But what if this is when we need play the most??
This is where I find myself coming back to time after time — finding play, losing play, needing to find it again.
At least find the edge of it. In the melancholy of a song, on the pages of my journal, in a piece of art, in the shade of a tree, in the gush of a waterfall. Something that takes me for a moment out of my head, out of my alarm, and into a place that travels sideways to my heart. Not a direct route, that would be too much.
Something that allows me to play at the edges a bit. Dip my toes in the water. Dabble in the sadness. Dare something to move again. For it’s in the movement that we feel most alive. It is the movement that saves us in the end.
And so, if you find yourself, like me sometimes, at a loss for play, I suggest seeking out the edges.
Make a date with the trees or the lake or the rose bush outside your window. With a song or an instrument or the faltering sound of your own voice. With a paintbrush or a crayon or a fountain pen. With a book or a movie, a story that allows you to enter in and connect with what’s inside and wants out to play.
And maybe invite someone else along for the ride. For as I learned many years ago when my children were younger, sometimes it is in the act of helping someone else find their play that we stumble into our own.
Editor’s note about the Playful Facilitation Module – February to May 2024
Tamara Strijack is delighted to be offering something new and outside-the-box next year. Building on the material of the play series, this will be a five month online experiential course module that focuses on facilitating true play in the lives of those in our care (including ourselves). Whether you are an educator, a helping professional, a parent or a mentor, this will be an opportunity to explore ways to both subtly and intentionally harness the power of play and the play mode, and (hopefully) restore our own playfulness in the process.
This course of study will be offered in partnership with the Yellow Door, a new centre founded by Tamara that brings developmental science into an experiential practice of learning and becoming. It will run biweekly on Thursdays from 9 am to 11 am Pacific Time, starting in February 2024. Registration is now open.