More about play – June 18

On June 7, we turned our service over to Elder Shirley Williams, and I didn’t share what I had intended to share that morning. So, here it is:

In my (last) blog post about play, I revealed that I’m no good at it, at least not as an adult. Though I spent countless days in free-style play when growing up in South Dakota… alongside a creek and amidst corn fields and swaying wheat…somewhere along the line, I lost my ability to play in that way. So, I begin this short reflection, as we enter into June’s theme of play, by admitting to, and embracing, my beginner’s mind. I’ve forgotten how to play. And I want to re-learn.

So, I toddled off to do some research…that’s the grown up thing to do, right? For example, our Non-Fiction Bookclub is reading Diane Ackerman’s book called Deep Play, and I love the definition by Johan Huizinga found there: “Play is an activity which proceeds … outside the sphere of necessity or material utility. The play-mood is one of rapture and enthusiasm, and is sacred or festive in accordance with the occasion. A feeling of exaltation and tension accompanies the action.”

Rapture. Enthusiasm. Outside the limits of necessity. Sacred. Festive. I mean, I would LOVE to engage in this kind of play!

But this week, I worried that we should not proceed with this theme right now (in the wake of the graves discovered in Kamloops). I didn’t want it to seem that we were being frivolous, or ignoring the tragic realities of our past. We can’t just stick our fingers in our ears and cover our eyes, and go off frolicking…that’s for darn sure.

But instead, I decided to stick with it, and went looking specifically for how play might serve us. I wondered if it might have some kind of healing or redemptive qualities.

And here’s a short list of some of what I found:

  • Play leads to creating something new out of what exists.
  • Play takes us beyond ourselves … allowing us to be something other than we are.
    Without play, we continue to be stuck in old worlds. In play, we pretend new worlds into being.
  • Play allows our minds and bodies to feel better, and this helps us to heal better.
  • Play disarms us, and makes our edges and barriers more malleable, allowing us to connect more deeply.
  • Play is restorative to our spirit and is necessary at any age.
  • Play is not about any one activity, but rather is a state of being.

Do you hear all the possibility in that list? I sure do. Play opens up possibilities… of becoming something new… of new ways of being… of imagining new worlds… of restoring a strong enough spirit to go out into the world to continue to fight for justice.

I’m sure, of course, that play can be a way to avoid reality, or to preoccupy oneself with pleasure. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kind of play espoused by development consultant Emeka Nnadi who uses this equation: T= RI to the power of P. That is, transformation (T) equals reality (R) times the impossible (I) to the power of play. Play catapults the mix of reality and imagination into transformation.

We know the reality today. We know that Canada must face both it’s past and current crimes against Indigenous peoples. And, we can also imagine a world of peace and unity where every person’s worth is honoured and respected. So how can we play on this field, in what Parker Palmer calls the tragic gap between reality and possibility?

I think an answer is, just do it. Play. Go into that place of sacred space beyond time and space, embrace the spirit of play with enthusiasm, and imagine what could be. Don’t make it a job or a project. The ends are not the point of play. Simply play. And trust that something new will emerge.

I first thought of a kind of foosball table setup, with our past playing against our desired future… but then I got uncomfortable with opposing teams and potentially aggressive competition. So, I began to imagine the past and present being loosed from the bars and expectations, and the players interacting, and getting to know one another. Switching teams, playing in the mud together.
Or I can think of the past as an old dusty heavy storybook that has clawing connections to white identity and power, and I start to think about tearing out the pages, which then become light and feathery and flutter off into the world as healing balms, or maybe monetary restitutions.
Or I can imagine taking my little avatar self into some alternative reality and experiment with different kinds of relationships…different feelings…different ways of living on the earth…different ways of sharing and honouring resources.
Or what if we got together and did some role play, with some of us carrying the pain…in its many manifestations, some of us playing the stuck places, and some of us playing healers. Where would that little drama take us? Who knows? Imagine.
Or what if I simply took the time to play with someone who has first hand knowledge of the generational trauma of residential school…we could play music, or cards, or whatever we chose. We could laugh, and sing, and dance together. I can imagine borders dissolving…and healing…

What can you imagine? What is possible in the transformative space of play?
All work and seriousness and no play makes us dull. Keeps us stuck. Play is a birthright, something that each child, and adult, is a rightful heir to. Maybe we can’t play all the time, but when we do, something new is bound to emerge.
So let’s play!
So be it.