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Laugh Till it Hurts: The Power of Play

(photo of my daughter, Lucy and me on the Oregon coast, 2009)

My daughter is on that whirligig thing at the school playground, being spun by another child.  She’s shrieking with delight, head thrown back, hair flying wild, clinging on with both hands.  She rides until it slows down and  then staggers over to me, still dizzy.  As she slumps in my lap I get a look at her face, shining with happiness, full of pure pleasure.

I see in her a necessary part of healthy living.  There’s a deliciousness that comes through play, and kids don’t need reminding to get their daily fix.

I realize I’ve let my playground skills get rusty.

I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s wonderful book The Gifts Of Imperfection.  Brene is a researcher who looks deeply at shame, vulnerability and authenticity.  Her work is brave and brilliant.  And her research catalyzed what she calls her own breakdown spiritual awakening, leading her on a search to define wholeheartedness.  I love this.  I, too, am on a search to live wholeheartedly.  As in with my whole heart, in my imperfection, as fully as I can as much as I can.

There are parts of my life I am living fully.  I’m deeply immersed in parenting.  I’m honing and refining my skills as a life coach, a facilitator and an entrepreneur.  I’m creating a work-life balance that includes what I consider to be pretty decent self care.  I honor my values of connection and authenticity by nurturing and deepening my friendships and my relationship.

And now that I look at it, I see that there’s a big gap in my wholehearted living.  It’s the playful side of me.  Where has she gone?  While I’ve been diligent and committed to personal growth and development, I have kept the door mostly closed on the stuff I also need to live wholeheartedly.

Get me on that whirligig!

Brene collected tons of data from thousands of people and found that play and creativity are essential for us to thrive.  Those who are most successful at wholehearted living know what my daughter knows: that play for its own sake feeds us.  We need it like we need water, sleep and learning.  We need play to get out of our thinking minds and into the bigger, more creative space of our souls.

One of my friends recently turned 50, and in celebration of her fabulousness a bunch of us did a Flashmob dance in a local shopping mall.  For weeks we learned the steps and practiced in our own homes, as well as together.  We took it seriously.  This is not surprising, given who we are: midlife women from a tight-knit island community, mostly with families, who cherish our friend and wanted to give her a gift we knew she’d appreciate.  But something else happened along the way: we played.  Hard.  The dance took on its own life and we dove in not so much because we wanted it to be something fantastic (though we did!), but because it felt great to be involved in something that wasn’t about earning points or earning money, that wasn’t going to gain us prestige or make us smarter — it was an act of pure fun.

On the day of the event there were about 60 of us there, and we rocked that shopping mall.  The music unexpectedly failed and we had to sing “I Will Survive”, which we did loudly and proudly.  We were goofy, we were in and out of rhythm, and I smiled so hard it hurt.  It was fabulous.

I want more of that.

And you, my sincere, committed self-learner: what about your playfulness?  How often do you get out there and play just for the sake of playing?  On a sunny day do you automatically garden, or might you consider busting out a kite and heading to the park?  When was the last time you fingerpainted?  Or played hide and seek (fun with kids, but also fun with grown-ups!)?  When was the last time you laughed until you cried and your stomach hurt?

Meet me at the playground.  I’ll spin the whirligig for you…


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