I admit I have not been posting original material here for quite some time, as I have been playing with too many projects lately. (I know…this Punk player is a real lame duck, just preaching the play and workin all the time.) And the next project is due for grad school by early next week. But, I do intend on using these great resources I have been collecting, due to my ambitiously supportive advisor, and pass it along to my dear readers. This is a must read for us adults. However here’s my disclaimer: You may not want to read this piece near the office, as it may send you running for the beach and in lost of a job.
Most of us think of adult play as respite or indulgence, but having fun is no trivial pursuit. In fact, it’s crucial to put mental creativity, health and happiness. Say the words and they conjure the gentle tickle of waves against the shore, the harder kick of surf dashing against rocks, the slap of spray against heated skin. For most of us, the place where earth meets ocean is the very essence of play—antic, full of novelty and joyful abandon. At the beach, we are all children. As we gambol in the shallow surf and toss in the deeper waves, we feel the freedom of helplessness and the satisfaction of improvising defenses. Unburdened by consciousness or self-consciousness, we are caught in the moment. Suffused with pleasure, we exult in the sheer lightness of being.
Yet, as welcome and wonderful as those feelings are, play’s value among adults is too often vastly underrated. We would all agree that play lifts stress from us. It refreshes us and recharges us. It restores our optimism. It changes our perspective, stimulating creativity. It renews our ability to accomplish the work of the world. By anyone’s reckoning, those are remarkably worthy achievements.
But there is also evidence that play does much more. It may in fact be the highest expression of our humanity, both imitating and advancing the evolutionary process. Play appears to allow our brains to exercise their very flexibility, to maintain and even perhaps renew the neural connections that embody our human potential to adapt, to meet any possible set of environmental conditions.
And it may be that playfulness is a force woven through our search for mates. Certainly, playful people are the most fun to be around. But the ability to play may be a strong and appealing signal of something more. Especially among males, playfulness can protect us. It may be a way to indicate to potential partners that a man is not a threat to himself, to his offspring—or to society at large.
It can truly be said that we are made for play; after all, humans are among the very few animals that play as adults. What the evidence adds up to is this: we are most human when we play—and just because we play.
Like art, play is that quintessential experience that is almost impossible to define—because it encompasses infinite variability—but which we all recognize when we see, or experience. So let us go back to the beach in an attempt to understand all that contributes to such a necessary, and exalted, psychological state.
The beach is, above all else, Somewhere Else, far enough away from home, office, and everyday routines in character and distance. That dislocation sets the stage for us to be attuned to the moment, to relax our focus on long-term goals.
Being at the beach invariably forces a measure of spontaneity. We bring few of our usual possessions and tools. We are forced to recline, stretch out, relax.
If the sand and the water offer their own endless cache of novelty, the sun draws our attention to them. And it cossets us, taking tension out of our bodies with its warmth. Then, too, there is the novelty of (relative) nudity. It renders us all childlike and opens us to the enjoyment of sensations. It renders us ready to play.