What does play have to do with wellness?

Wellness has traditionally been focused on individuals taking responsibility for their lifestyle and then implementing positive health habits.  The areas of focus have been physical fitness, nutrition, weight reduction, smoking cessation and stress management.  You’ll notice that the fun factor, play, is not included.  Neither is a values piece to include spirituality or a relational piece.  The former is problematic as we are separated into different club affiliations.  And you know how clubby some folks can get. The latter, nonetheless, should be included.  Why? Much of our stress is about relationships.

The transformational approach to suspiciously healthy living includes taking responsibility for one’s thoughts, feelings, behavior and body.  You can think of the last two as the tip of a metaphoricaliceberg.  After all, behavior by definition is observable as is one’s body.  But those two aspects of our isness are a small part of who we are.  They are only the tip.  What is going on below the surface, hidden from view is the larger portion of what makes us human.  Both body and behavior are driven by the brain.  So what we do in the cortex, the thinking part, and what we do in the limbic system, the emotional brain, influence our observable selves.

Talking about the brain is important for many reasons.  Our narrow focus here will be to recognize that our thoughts don’t arise at random out of the ether.  They reflect our values and beliefs.  What do we most value in our culture?  Success.  And how do we attain what we most value?  The secret to success is hard work.

One can put that cultural bias into action as their approach to wellness.  They can work hard to become physically fit and survive to 100 years.  But, survival is not enough.  You can survive your whole life and never live it fully.

What is a full life, a life well lived?  Different people would answer differently.  One thing that’s shared in common is that many don’t begin to figure that out until their own mortality, or that of a loved one becomes a pressing issue.  At that point the tip of the iceberg wellness factors fall away in importance.  Our beliefs about what we most value arise as our most important drivers.  It’s the people, the relationships that matter most.  And the time spent with those people special to us becomes precious.  Not just time but quality time is most precious.  And the seriousness of the circumstances can weight heavy on everyone.  It can take away from the living that is still possible.

What then can transform the quality of energy present in the room?  Playfulness.  Light, buoyant, playful energy creates a more relaxed atmosphere for authenticity.  Lightness balances heaviness and emotional equilibrium results.  What follows can be a level of connection amongst those present that is a present, a gift for everyone.  The present moment is opened.  Now is all there is and it’s enough.  The feeling tone in the room is that of sacred space.  It’s a holy moment enriching the living, comforting the dying.

A life well lived would squeeze as many of those moments into it’s living.  And play, with love, may just be central to living fully, living well.  Play creates the psychological space for connecting in suspiciously healthy ways with others.  Defenses drop and deep sharing can result.  We risk more and in risking more are more fully alive.

Play also frees up potential energy in the psyche and puts it into creative motion in our problem solving.  The stressful dilemma breaks the status quo.  What was fixed is now fluid.  As the problem solver moves into the play state. that fluidity opens up many possibilities.  Playing with those is fun, engaging.  The player flows, testing ideas to see what floats.  The result may be a  new variation better adapted to present circumstances.

Wellness may be seen as a transformational movement of energy arising from our core, our center, out into the field of action.  The trajectory is toward wholeness and vitality as one fully participates in the possibilities of the moment.  Play evokes that energy and facilitates that movement as our creative impulse is given expression in the play state.  One is not diminished through this expression as a well is not diminished through the gift of its waters.  As the water table replaces what is removed, the psyche replaces what is expressed and we stay green, juicy and growing.  Stop that movement and we dry up.