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.

October 21, 2008. Uncategorized.


  1. Know Nothing replied:

    Thanks for writing this article Wise. My young son has been the impetus of my truth seeking and new found curiosity of the world. He has some toy cars that he loves to play with. One of his favorite things to do is to line them up. Each time the sequence is different, but he is very methodical in his play. He KNOWS what he is doing, and I love to watch him. He has taught me to delete what I think I know about the world, and to try and look at it through his eyes.There has been a removal of curiosity from our hearts and minds. Accepting the answers we have been given by media, science and religion has brought us here. When the answers are wrong, there is only so long that we can pretend they are right. Sooner or later you fail the exam. Can we really afford to keep doing this?

  2. Ed replied:

    I Remember playing as a kid. As an adult, it does seem childish but I remember when I was a kid, everything was a serious adventure.The fat David comment was hilarious!

  3. SoapBoxTech replied:

    I love this post. I don`t think it was a conscious decision but I have always kept a significant portion of play in my life. Even as I entered adult-hood, I was still drawn to real play. I would go in a forest and my mind would revert to child-hood, imagining whatever foes needed vanquishing, or imagining how things might have looked 100 years ago, etc etc. I don`t think this tendency wore off out of feeling childish, I think it just wore off (and got distracted by computer-oriented recreation).I even chose a career that is completely tied to the word play, as a noun. I work as a theatrical technician where `play` is the very point of our work. What originally drew me to this field was not the imagination required but the playful work environment itself. Work happened in the afternoons and evenings, allowing for a lots of what young adults consider to be play nowadays (albeit perhaps not the most positive and certainly not imaginative play), and the work itself was non-repetitive and much fun.As for the play of children, I do not think the word `serious` applies so well as the word `focused`. I also think the urge to `grow up` and move away from playing to concentrate on `serious` things is a significant part of the soft programming we receive.

  4. wise woman replied:

    Hi everyone – I really appreciated your open & generous comments.Mr KnowMy own need to understand was strongly fueled by having a child.I do agree that children do know exactly what they are doing & I wonder if that's because no one has 'taught' them the (cough, cough) 'Answers'. Hmmm look at the etymology of 'answer' – O.E. andswaru, from and- "against" (see ante-) + -swaru "affirmation," from swerian "to swear," reflecting the original sense of "make a sworn statement rebutting a charge." – kind of sounds like 'an alibi'! – more food for thoughtHiya EdYep, as I was writing the article I was getting memories of myself being so very serious about what I was doing & everything was about adventure – & I must admit I did have a little play with David.Hi SoapboxAm very pleased that you have maintained a play focus in your life & your work sounds cool. There was a time in my work when I got to be real creative & had heaps of fun, unfortunately the dullness & rigid boundaries of success seem to have descended – bollocks!Party on dudes!!

  5. Michael Skaggs replied:

    Hiya Wise!This was indeed a “playful pleasure” to read! Thank you for putting this out there in the blogo sphere for all to see and play with.Kids nowadays in such a rush to grow up but once they hear “straighten up, fly right, stop that childish nonsense!” they might think twice!Oh those glorious years of adventuring through the forests on an adventure! You’ve rekindled my interest in serious play now! Thank you!Be well WW!

  6. wise woman replied:

    Thanks MichaelGlad to help rekindle that sense of adventure.So we might see you frolicking round the forest sometime then?Have fun & watch out for the pixies :)

  7. Ben Emlyn-Jones replied:

    Yes, kids are great to watch because they are the “ball floating on the fish tank” as our Dave says, before it gets pushed down. They start of as natural human spirits, but from the moment of birth forces act to condition them to become the adult zombies that it’s “cool” to be these days. First through vaccinations and polluted food, then parental and peer presure, then education and media conformity. But times they are a-changing and kids are instinctively cherishing their playtime more. So well done to those kids who were decorating the path!

  8. wise woman replied:

    Hi BenWell said & I agree – very well done to those boys, they taught me a big lesson, actually a few of them – one important one is that real teachers come in all sizes & ages. Hmmm maybe that's the test of a real teacher – can you imagine them squatting on the ground with coloured chalk?

  9. Ben Emlyn-Jones replied:

    I’d love it if my school was like that! You can learn more with a paving stone and a stick of chalk than in a dozen stuffy official books!

  10. Devin replied:

    wise woman, I am so glad I found your place. I really and truly loved this post. It really brought back pleasant memories and was very thought provoking.Best to you as always!-Devin

  11. wise woman replied:

    Thanks Devin, drop by anytime – this blog is open 24/7 – hope your night went well & thanks for all your kind comments :)

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