Edited by HENRY REED, Ph.D.
December 02,   2009



How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination,

and Invigorates the Soul*


By Stuart Brown, M.D. (with Christopher Vaughan)

Book Summary by Susan Gail Parcheta


Play is the swing off the rhythm in music, the bounce in the ball, the dance that delivers us from the lockstep march of life. It is the 'meaningless moment' that makes the day memorable and worthwhile. I believe we live in a playful universe. -- Stuart Brown, M.D.


Part One: why play?


Chapter One: the promise of play


The joy of play. We intuitively recognize the spirit of play in another human being, and animals recognize it, as well.

Play is powerful, pleasurable and energizing to us. When we play, we renew our optimistic selves and become open to new possibilities.

Scientists now realize how profound is the biological process of play...shaping the brain, increasing intelligence and adaptability, empathy and socialization. Play is the heart of creativity.

A key factor for being a fulfilled human being, is remembering how to play, incorporating play into our daily lives, and not feeling guilty about it as we get older.

Play serves as a catalyst to making us happier and more productive.

Individuals and corporate managers alike are discovering the benefits of play, not only for personal joy and creativity, but also for problem solving as a team. There's a magic in play that captures a sense of adventure and engagement with the world.

Living within our authentic "play personality" brings us the power of creativity and artistic grace.


Chapter Two: what is play, and why do we do it?


What is play? I hate to say

Play is a primal activity at its basic level, it's hard to define it. Play's a beautiful thing, and the joy of play is understood in experiencing it.

In attempting to speak to professional skeptics, such as engineers, you need charts, graphs and data spelling out the properties of play.

1: It's apparently purposeless

2: Play is voluntary, done for its own sake

3: Play's attractive, because it feels good to play.

4: It gives you freedom from time constraints

5: consciousness of self diminishes and you can even imagine a different self as you get into the flow of play

6: Play is improvisational by its very nature, so it provides an arena for trying out new behaviors, seeing things with new insight and creativity.

7: Play is fun, so the desire to keep experiencing the pleasure continues

Scott Eberle, an expert on play, from Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY has devised a six-step play process he believes humans go through. Play elements:

1: Anticipation: Curiosity about what might happen, sometimes coupled with slight anxiety over risk-taking adventure

2: Surprise: the unexpected discovery or insight

3: Pleasure: feeling good

4: Understanding: gaining new knowledge and integrating new ideas

5: Strength: Feeling empowered by the new experience and understanding

6: Poise: Feeling a sense of balance and grace

Describing the process as a wheel, Eberle says that when we reach the stage of poise, we begin all over again with something new.

Most definitions of play fall short. You can't understand play without the feeling and emotion side of it. The main thing is, anyone can do it.

Why do we play?

Animals give play signals. Even a polar bear and a sled dog can understand the nature of play and have been observed playing together. Play is such a powerful force in nature, that it can overcome the instinct for survival and hunger.

Understanding the biology of play

Humans also have a built-in impulse to play. A play signal is sent out, such as a smile, giving the invitation to engage with another in the spirit of play or to join the other in the feeling.

Play in the animal kingdom

Pulling together the commonalities of play in both humans and nonhuman animals, and the research going on, we find world-renowned expert in animal play and behavior, Bob Fagan, along with his wife, Johanna, at their study site on Admiralty Island in Alaska. Going there in 1992, through the support of the National Geographic Society, we watch and try to absorb the immense and intricate work of this meticulous observer of animal play.

After watching brown grizzly bears in play mode, and in talking to Fagan, it becomes apparent that the bears are playing because it's fun.

Play is fun; it makes life joyful, beautiful...and while it seems purposeless, longtime study of play in the animal kingdom reveals its purpose.

Play with a purpose

Play has an advantage that offsets its danger. The more play, the greater the survival factor. One theory is that play allows practice of survival skills. But play also allows animals to socialize and make sound judgments about trusting another animal and also about the environment.

With humans, the playful interaction includes verbal jousting to explore the social boundaries between teasing in friendly manner or taunting to be mean.

The brain on play

Scientists, including Andrew Iwaniuk and John Nelson of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia discovered a link between playfulness in animals and brain size. Those with larger brains played more.

Play researcher Jaak Panksepp suggests that play stimulates nerve growth. Animal play scholar John Byers analyzed the relationship of playfulness with brain development and the corresponding rung on the evolutionary ladder of each species. The activity of play stimulates the brain and contributes to the cognitive functions of language processing, awareness of musical rhythm, attention span.

Much of play involves simulation of life activities through imagination acting out different situations. Simulations can be created through the vehicles of sports, books, art, physical activity, movies and more.

Neural scientist Gerald Edelman's theory is that the brain integrates new information via a network of "maps" (encoded in networks of interconnected neurons) that allows us to recognize the generalization of "treeness," for example. These perceptions are not static. They change, and play provides a rich orchestration for creating these neural maps and connections. Play helps us make sense of the world and how it works.

As children we play, and as adults we continue to play as we engage our adult imagination in our internal stream-of-consciousness thought process and our daydreams of future events. Play helps create new cognitive connections and combinations.

The importance of playful investigation on brain development was studied back in the 1960s by Marian Diamond, a researcher at UC Berkeley. Her landmark studies showed that rats, raised in an enriched environment, had larger, more complex brains. They were smarter.

Her work demonstrated the importance of the play factor in creating smarter rats. The smart ones played with a variety of "toys" and socialized with other rats. Diamond attributed this basically to the rats having toys and friends, with active play being the key to brain development, not passively observing the environment around them.

In humans, as well, it is clear that babies and young children thrive on playing and socializing, not simply being exposed to a variety of stimuli. Actual play activities are the critical factor in developing a healthy brain.

As play continues throughout life, it helps wire the brain to create new neural connections, with the fittest connections being the ones that survive.

REM sleep (dreaming sleep) appears to be part of this higher brain functioning organizing process, helping stabilize the brain and improve memory. A good night's sleep, studies show, helps for recall after learning something.

REM sleep happens more frequently during times of rapid brain development, and play also is more prevalent during this time after birth (childhood), seemingly to continue the evolution of neural connections and the creation of new ones.

Play and sleep both appear to stabilize body and social development in children, and s to organiz brain development and adaptability over the long term.

The drive to play

The impulse to play is a biological drive like sleep, food or sex. If play is denied over a long period of time, we tend to become depressed and unable to feel pleasure. A play deficit is like a sleep deficit. And, there is the same need to catch up or experience "rebound" play as there is for sleep.

All in all, the brain works better when we get enough play. We're more creative and we feel more optimistic about life. We enjoy the novelty of play just for the fun of it. This sense of play has contributed to many inventions, from steam engines to airplanes, from fireworks to clocks.


Chapter Three: We are built for Play


We are built for play, and lack of it turns us into couch potatoes. Even the lowly sea squirt, whose primitive nervous system closely resembles that of our earliest human ancestor, stops moving as it grows into adulthood, attaches itself passively to a rock and wastes away, digesting its own brain.

When the sea squirt stops moving, or animals stop playing, the brain stops growing.

In humans the brain can go on developing after adolescence when we play all life long.

Playing the hand that's dealt

While play is crucial to the development process, creates and tests neural connections, helps discover and form innate skills, and provides a social context for learning, it can also be dangerous.

Despite its cost, play has benefits that outweigh them. Animals become smarter and more adaptable when they play. For some animals, the play period ends with their juvenile period, because of these costs. But in the game of life, the hand must be played, win or lose. Will the skills learned be passed along?

Humans continue to extend the juvenile period. If play is a primary characteristic of being juvenile, keeping us growing and adapting, what if we maintained these qualities throughout a lifetime?

The Labrador and the wolf

C.J. Rogers, an animal researcher in New Mexico, in a study of wolves and dogs, showed that wolf and dog pup behavior is nearly identical. Wolf pups are similar in action and looks to a Lab or golden retriever. When wolf pups are moving into adulthood, the focus turns to pack formation and status level. Dogs, though, continue the pattern of stretching out (neoteny) the juvenile period into adulthood, which brings adaptability to change and continuing curiosity.

Humans are much like Labradors, in that we are youthful primates. Young chimps look like human babies. But in adulthood they look more like Neanderthal ancestors. Humans retain the baby face lifelong, and we act more like chimpanzee infants, as well.

This "retained immaturity" quality allows for higher capacity for neuron growth, and therefore maintaining our youthfulness. Wolf behavior works better for surviving in a challenging environment. For dogs, neoteny brings adaptability to coexist with humans, but also more vulnerability.

Neoteny has allowed humans to continue playing lifelong. Our juvenile period is now as long as 15 years, Neorogenesis, for a person in a stable environment, can continue throughout life, as long as we are involved in play activities.

play in adulthood

As adults, aspects of play can seem like work and vice-verse. True play means feeling in-the-zone, playing for the sake of it. Runner's World has characterized four types of runners: the competitor (who runs to compete with others or self), the socialist (who runs as a social activity), the exerciser (who runs to stay in shape) and the enthusiast (who runs for the joy of it). The internal experience differs for each.

Since play is more like a state of mind, it can seem like play or it can seem like work depending on how we look at it, or the activity we are engaged in. Truly playing means our heart is in it. We are in sync with ourselves and those we are playing with.

Work can be play. Like the laboratory work of Nobel laureates Roger Guillmin and Jonas Salk, work can be a giant sandbox for play, if the joy is in the project or the discovery.

The work we love is often an extension of what we loved in our youth.

what is your play personality?

Archetypes of play personalities might be put into eight categories:

1 The Joker: The joker loves the nonsense aspect of play, and, like actor George Clooney, loves practical jokes.

2 The Kinesthete: the Kinesthete loves to move, thinks better when moving, and thrives as an athlete or a dancer.

3 The Explorer: The explorer loves to continue exploring the world - as when a child either physically traveling to new places, emotionally in finding new levels of meaning, or mentally. exploring new arenas of knowledge.

4 The Competitor:The competitor enjoys the thrill of the game and plays to win.

5 The Director: The director is the organizer, party giver at best, and manipulator at worst.

6 -The Collector: The collector wants to have or gather together the most interesting or best objects or experiences.

7 The Artist/Creator: The artist/creator purely enjoys making things...making something beautiful, functional or making something work.

The Storyteller: The storyteller is the performer, who makes themselves become part of the story, and whose realm is the imagination.

The fate of the sea squirt

Opportunities to play are everywhere as we continue to express that drive within us. Experiencing play makes us less prone to dementia, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and other health problems. When we stop playing, our behavior becomes fixed. This often happens in the decades of the sixties and seventies. Those who stay sharp are those who keep on playing and working. We energize ourselves and feed our spirit when we continue to play. When we stop playing, entropy takes over, and we begin to fall apart.


Part Two: living the playful life


Chapter Four : parenthood to child's play


A core in-built play nature in childhood can morph into our individual play personality, if left unfettered. The joy of exuberance in play, however, can be lost, as we grow out of our childhood. Many of us lose this capacity. We leave it behind. Retaining a playful approach to life as adults often depends on how parents look at it. Parents who've realized that this was missing from their own lives, often work to get it back, and also to provide a better play atmosphere for their children. First, we have to remember how we played as children, how we felt, and then go on to create a playful household.

Play at the beginning of life

Even before birth, while in the womb, our neural circuits are developing. The playfulness of the mother during pregnancy can affect the mind-set of the baby and studies show that the health of the mother (the prenatal environment) has a multigenerational effect on IQ, heart disease risk, and other health issues. Fetal movements, seemingly random, are considered expressions of play.

1 Attunement: In a safe environment, where the mother is stress-free and calm, a harmonic bonding takes place when mother and baby gaze at each other. The baby smiles, and the mother smiles back. Locking eyes in this gaze, they are synchronizing neural activity, attuning their brain rhythms. This can also happen with fathers.

The state of joyful union, experienced by baby and parent, is akin to the primary state of play, and becomes the foundation for increasingly complex states of play throughout our lives.

This bonding as researched by UCLA's Allan Schore is essential for emotional self-regulation in adulthood, especially in forming healthy attachments. It also has implications for stress management.  

2 Body and movement play: Infant play, such as squirming, rocking and crawling, are not random movements. They are behaviors intrinsic to exploring the environment. Babbling leads to language.

Movement exists in all aspects of play. It is how we know ourselves in our world. We think in terms of movement. It's so internalized (our place in the world, space, time) that we forget how much of our thinking is based on movement.

The qualities of learning, adaptability, resilience and innovation are fully realized through movement. "Movement fills an empty heart," said Bob Fagen. Movement helps get people into a play state, and play-driven exploratory movements help sculpt the brain in matters of motor and mental dexterity important for language fluency.

3 Object play: Manipulating objects with the hands is a pattern of play that helps the brain become better suited for problem solving.

4 Imaginative play: Spinning stories through imaginative play is integral to children, beginning at about age two. Children gleefully move between reality and pretend. Eventually the line becomes more solidified between the two. Imagination continues to nourish the spirit, however, and in adults it's recognized as the stream-of-consciousness storylines we create for ourselves. Such fantasies help us remain creative and resilient, as well as develop empathy and compassion for others.

5 Social play : Social play is important for a society to function well and for its citizens to maintain good relationships.

6 Friendship and belonging: Social play begins with parallel play among children, so that by the age of four, their cooperative play periods help develop their empathy for others.

7 Rough-and-tumble play: rough-and-tumble play is now known as a crucial element in the development of our sense of cooperation, fairness and social awareness. This fact is largely unappreciated, especially on the part of preschool parents. A Texas study revealed an absence of rough-and-tumble play in the early lives of young murderers.

This kind of friendly or play-fighting that characterizes rough-and-tumble play ...such as kid's games of the "good guys" and the "bad guys"... is valuable in establishing cooperative socialization. Joe Frost of the University of Texas has designed playgrounds within playgrounds that include areas for young children for graduated exploratory play, along with rough-and-tumble play and games, as well as areas for quiet, solitary play.

Frost explains that adults do not often distinguish between active aggression and play fighting. Children know the difference, he maintains. While rough-and-tumble play lessens as children grow up, adults engage in sports, games and other activities that are a natural extension of rough and tumble type play.

8 Celebratory and ritual play: Celebrations, such as birthdays and holidays, develop good memories in children, which adults later enjoy as an "official" excuse to play.

 9 Storytelling and narrative play : Storytelling is a function of the left hemisphere of the brain and a way to integrate pieces of information about why things are the way they are in our world. This capacity remains important as adults, to help us make sense of things. Storytelling is a play state transporting us into a timeless, altered state of pleasure.

10 Transformative-Integrative and Creative Play: Play is transformative. Through play we can go through a doorway to a new self, try out different behaviors and ideas, and free ourselves from certain patterns. Fantasy play, daydreams, visualization and creative play can lead to pioneering inventions and new pathways for society to follow.

The life and death of Charles Whitman

Charles Whitman, in August 1966, shot and killed 15 people and injured 31, before he was gunned down at the University of Texas in the worst massacre on a college campus until the one at Virginia Tech in 2007.

An ex-Marine, Whitman had been the youngest Eagle Scout in the history of the Boy Scouts, and had been a loving husband and father. In investigating his true nature, it was discovered, not surprisingly, that his father was in a mode of over control on the family and afflicted constant abuse on Charles' mother.

What stood out over extensive interviews with the people in Charles' life, was a lifelong lack of play. He had none of the experiences of other kids with imaginative play, nor in parallel play as a preschooler. His father was in constant control at home. The fear engendered kept normal play patterns from emerging.

Rather than play outside, he had to stay inside and practice piano, and when out with his mother, the father was monitoring them by CB radio. If friends came over, Charles would be asked to give a piano recital for them.

Charles did nothing from within himself. He could never play freely. Everything fell into the bounds his father expected from him. Inwardly, Charles was seething.

This is an extreme case of parental overcontrol. Some measure of control and supervision is necessary for children to feel safe and protected while playing freely, knowing that order will be restored afterward. In many tribes, this role is filled by the grandmother.

Throughout school free play enhances growth and learning. The necessity of play is often overlooked, with the cultural pressure for success. Activities such as music, art, physical education are reduced or eliminated in schools, when the neuroscience of play suggests this is the wrong outlook for the creativity and innovation needed for today's work force.

The absence of play, maintains Jack Panksepp, could delay brain maturation or disrupt it, damaging the frontal lobes in a manner seen in human attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Panksepp suggests a connection between lack of play specifically the rough and tumble, vigorous kind with ADHD.

Learning and memory

Play enhances learning and, as many teachers know, play activities can help students learn complex or boring subject matter. Play also helps enhance memory, as indicated by  performance outcomes in students who had adequate recess/play time.

The longest running TV show Sesame Street has demonstrated over four decades the power of playfulness. The show includes a mixture of fantasy, humor and real life lessons.

Gifts of play

Parents worldwide are familiar with children being more interested in playing with the box, than with the gift that came inside. This demonstrates a healthy play drive, using the imagination to play with the box...a blank slate...which can be in fantasy, anything they want.

For play to be authentic, it must come from within us. Play powerfully harmonizes all the influences within us, helping us to integrate them and find our own way.

Adults over 45 remember the self-organized play that most all children experienced...exploring, playing spontaneous games. This kind of play is rare nowadays, with kids' activities being organized and supervised by adults.

But kids will manage to find their play domains, since the drive to play is so strong. Suppressing it or controlling it rigidly may be a greater risk for their long term development.

Coming into adulthood: sophomoric rites of adolescence

Being pulled in opposite directions in adolescence, kids are expected to become skillful enough to live independently as adults, yet retain their unique sense of self...separating from their parents, while remaining emotionally close as well.

During adolescence, the brain experiences phenomenal neural growth. Adolescents tend to develop a unique perception of the world around them. This brain growth continues beyond the adolescent years, during which time kids are expected to be successful in school, handle jobs, volunteer work, sports, etc and yet find their way through it all.

Our internal play compass is what produces feelings of competence, not being pressured to perform. In the rush to succeed in school, many students give up things they enjoy.

As it turns out, play-based activities are fundamental for lifelong satisfaction, and the feeling of autonomy and joy. Sports can provide an arena for powerful training in the game of life. Other areas include band and orchestra, drama and debate, art...all great character building activities.

From child to adult

Rites of passage from child to adult can include jobs or experiences like Outward Bound can help us discover our own path and learning self reliance.


Chapter Five: the opposite of play is not work


The opposite of play is depression, coming from being overwhelmed by responsibility. Work and play should be mutually supportive. The quality they have in common is creativity. Recognizing the need for play within our work environment is the key to making work, work.

Recreational play outside of work helps keep everything in balance, including work. And it's nature's way to create neural networks, and in turn, helps us be creative and discover solutions to life issues.

Play at work: Aspects of play are essential to the work environment,    contributing to creative work solutions, often providing the teamwork necessary for work to be beneficial and productive for all involved, allowing for full competition against other teams, both inside and outside the company.

Creativity and innovation: Play sparks creativity and innovation, which corporations recognize now is crucial to growth. These are the kind of ideas that change our world and our culture. Even a small innovation shifts the way we think or do things.

Creativity seems mysterious because its so paradoxical. Among the hallmarks of creative people are the ways they can focus, yet see the big picture; or they may be experts in their area, while welcoming new information; or they've an ability soar off into imagination, while keeping their feet on the ground. They bring ideas together from a variety of places.

Playfulness embodies creativity. It inspires serendipity, blending reality and fantasy. There are a wide range of factors involved in understanding creativity and play in regard to companies including early play memories, brainstorming (if done in a playful context), nurturing new ideas and methods (allowing company mavericks to be the bridge for those).

Mastery: Play can be a guide to mastery, as it leaves you open to serendipity and welcoming the anomalies that result in new discoveries. Work, when involved with play, is not a grind. Working for the joy of it, by keeping a playful stance, allows you to reach the top of a discipline because you're driven by the passion of what you do.

Losing it: Why, then, to we lose this playfulness? Our culture pulls us away from this natural tendency to play because of careers, having families, moving up the work ladder, parent care, child care, community and religious obligations, and even working out to stay healthy. A crisis or meltdown can happen at any time, not just in midlife, but in the 20s, 30s, or even in adolescence because of overpacked schedules.

Eventually, the question comes back to, "Is that all there is?" In being pulled away from play, we are pushed away from it because of a culture that doesn't recognize or respect the innate human need for it and that it's not a waste of time. We don't allow ourselves to have fun. Amazingly, we even become hostile and defensive to the idea of play. Usually that response comes because of being deprived of play, which leads to an unconscious , defensive reaction...realizing what's been missing in our lives.

Joy is a core essential for a human being. To understand you might have missed out on this life component can be devastating.

When looking at their play history, and in beginning to understand the importance of play, many people find it emotionally unbearable to think of it being that crucial, and so the idea gets squashed. This happens in so-called serious fields, like medicine, where the playful Patch Adams types are rare.

Because of this lack of understanding about the nature of play and its importance, we become subversive in our approach at work. If we really enjoy the work, this might seem disrespectful to those feeling overloaded, or that you're being a Pollyanna, or don't care about losing your job.

It's nonsense to think we can't enjoy our work and have fun at the same time. We should find the same joy as we did as kids making paper airplanes. We should heed the warning if we aren't feeling the lightness in our work. If we sense a play deficiency, we should pay attention to the signs, with as much alarm as a high blood pressure or blood sugar reading.

Getting it back: How do we get the joy back? How do we jump-start play? Any kind of movement helps us get past our mental defensiveness. Regular physical activity helps get out of depression and self-doubt, if even a short walk or playing with pets or kids.

But in the long term, you need to take a journey into your past to help you figure out your play avenues that will fit you now. What did you enjoy as a kid? How did that make you feel? And then, feel that emotion because that will keep you afloat.

What activities can you find that feel like "heart play" to you. What speaks to your soul?

Once you find that playful self again, and it's in your work, you become a powerful figure. It can be transformational, as in the case of Al Gore, who undid his stiff persona and, in An Inconvenient Truth, did the work that fueled his soul.

Your North Star, the emotion of play, will guide you on your life journey.


Chapter Six: playing together


Play, as a cornerstone for relationships, helps in both marriage and long-term friendships.

In the beginning: The play factor in relationships begins with mother and child and their mutual, joyful encounters. This provides the foundation for intimate relationships throughout life.

Play in adult relationships: Play signals in humans such as smiling (but not staring), extending the hand of friendship, a hug, a kiss on the cheek invite mirroring by the other person, and a mutual bonding to take place.

Non-engaging behaviors can include avoiding eye contact, or trying to look busy.

Play signals, however, invite an emotional connection with the other person.

Such a playful attitude can be a personal decision, as a way to help others feel better in any situation.

 Some play behaviors that allow us to open up include teasing and joking, which inject humor into a situation, thus going directly to our emotional center.

Love potion no. 1: Researchers say there are three different brain systems in connection with sexually oriented love.

Erotic love (lust) comes from the sex drive and is nonspecific and immediate. Romantic love is oriented toward one person and results in great feelings of energy and euphoria. Attachment is a comfortable connection to another that remains after the preceding levels have faded. All three types are independent of each other.

Play can infuse a fresh spark in a long-term relationship, helping to deepen it even further. A sense of humor and playful activities help buoy up our relationships.

Play as a sex symbol: Play as a sexual trait has been discussed by biologist Geoffrey Miller, who believes that art, music, sports, drama are all aspects of the natural mating display of humans, like the peacock's tail.

While the arts and humanities have survival advantage as products of the drive to play, looking at them as useless in an evolutionary sense, ignores the way these activities produce emotional intelligence, helping us to grow and adapt. Artists of all kinds are attractive because they clearly demonstrate the human desire to be a creative species.

Play and partners: The term "player" in dating is unfortunate, in that it indicates an invitation to an emotional response without giving back.

Romance and attachment: The force of romantic love is a strong force, with addictive qualities. Play has a moderating effect on the emotion of romantic love, and helps keep things in balance. Being in love has its downside of pain, as well. Love-sickness can actually cause one to become ill. A broken heart can reduce immunity, while playfulness in romantic love reduces that vulnerability.

 The Coolidge effect: Humans desire novelty. The Coolidge Effect (providing a playful amorous boost) comes from a story about Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Grace, and their playful talk...non-routine, novel. Novelty heightens dopamine (which enhances pleasure) in the brain.


Chapter Seven: does play have a dark side?


What if our sense of play turns on us and becomes destructive? We might doubt the wisdom of playfulness. We might be scared to look silly, feel guilty about spending time playing, thinking others see us as immature. What if play gets out of hand?

Play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith thinks that play can have a dark side, and can result in underhanded behavior, sadism and cruelty.

But, by its nature, play has been shaped by evolution toward an optimistic, exploratory world outlook trending toward social interactions that are more harmonious. Sadism is not play, nor is behavior driven by compulsive qualities.

Bullying is an example people give of destructive play. This is not play. The basic aspect of play is the desire to keep it going, which is where self-handicapping comes in, in order to keep it going.

No matter the activity, if it's violent, domineering or aggressive, it's not play. Humans, by nature, desire fair play. We win or lose, but we do it with a sense of grace, shaking hands in the end.

Play addicts: Games find gaming playful and games can positively affect brain development. The concern comes with its sedentary nature and isolation from real-world interactions, which is a deep human need. Humans need to move, to physically sense the dimensions of time and space, gravity and object resistance.

The hand and the brain need to work together neurologically. Hands-on manipulation of objects is critical to brain development. Research is showing that our brain reacts differently to three-dimensional objects than to computer screens. The potential for addiction with gaming is also present, especially if the person is gaming to escape some psychic pain.

However, it doesn't mean it's the dark side of play, just as obesity doesn't indicate a dark side to food, just that three-dimensional play is a better type of play.

Waking up to the importance of regular play can be life changing, finding ways to integrate play into our daily lives.

Breaking the rules: Play isn't necessarily always wonderful, because there are dangers and people can get hurt. Even in rough-and-tumble play , involving either boys or girls, however, adults are often too quick to step into the fray. We get clues from the kids whether it is authentic play or not.

Providing preschool teachers with sound information about rough-and-tumble play and the health aspects will help both teachers and parents what's normal and not.

rough-and-tumble play carries on into adulthood and can enhance healthy relationships, with such behaviors as teasing, joking, kidding. Teasing lets you go to the edge, without hurting...and it's a learned social skill. It can get a bit uncomfortable, but you know its basis comes from love. It's a complex playful behavior that can indicate emotional closeness.

Play is also about stepping outside the box, experimenting with different patterns of thought and behavior, but true play is never sadistic or domineering.


Chapter Eight: a world at play


Watching lionesses in rough-and-tumble play on the Serengiti Plain is more like watching a dance, or choreographed play. Witnessing their joy unique to this behavior gives a primal feeling of spiritual divinity. Finding joy in the creative dance of two cats, like the lions playing in the dream of Santiago, the fisherman in Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, the essential nature of play is the only thing that remains.

The birthplace of humans, the great plains of Africa, is where our primate ancestors began to playfully imagine and create language, learning to tell friend from foe, adapting, developing survival skills.

Perhaps through play we will find ways to survive in our world today. Play establishes a groundwork for cooperation, nourishing empathy, compassion, caring, trusting, sharing.

Play reduces levels of violence, creates avenues of communication...not only between countries, but also between groups of people, such as marginalized kids in Los Angeles, as discovered in Nate Jones' (master mechanic) program, where he uses play technique to get kids to loosen up and get into the spirit of play, which is cooperation, changing the dynamics of a juvenile prison atmosphere.

We play as we take part in cultural activities: music, dance, drama, festivals, books, art. Play begets innovative ideas, allowing us to adapt to the changing world around us.

Today we're coming into the age of the creative economy, with the knowledge economy falling away. Other cultures are equally knowledgeable in education, analytics, computer technology. Countries like the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Japan and the Scandinavian nations have an advantage because they will continue to be innovative and invent solutions. Creativity comes from the ability to play.

The good life

We need play to launch a fulfilling and magnificent life, a life in which we are true to ourselves and our world. We live a satisfying life, with our needs met, yet being able to give to others. In participating in something greater than ourselves, we live an expanded lifestyle, we're happier people. We know that play affects every aspect of our lives.

We know we need play, and we know when we're not getting enough. Play brings a feeling of lightness to our core being. It helps us deal with paradox. We follow our bliss, as Joseph Campbell put it, the path that inspires us on the deepest level, whether it is pleasurable...a peak experience...or not.

Play is bliss, and we're grounded in happiness when we give ourselves over to regular play experiences, whether we enjoy biking and hiking or reading scientific literature.

It's important to fit kids into nature experiences, to get a feeling for its novelties and wonders, and to discover the fun that even a little discomfort can bring. Play helps make all of life better. Life becomes our playground when work is our play and play is our work.

Play on

Some ways to bring play into your life:

1 Take your play history get back in touch with what brought you joy in the past.

2 Expose yourself to play Find opportunities to play every day. Truly stop to smell the roses.

3 Give yourself permission to be playful, to be a beginner Give yourself permission to let go, not worrying about appearing silly. Allow yourself to go through the awkward stage.

4 Fun is your North Star, but you don't always have to head north-- Lots of play isn't fun camping, sailing, art work...all require maintenance and include frustration. Yet it can be transforming.

5 - Be active Move. Walk. Throw a ball. Jump-start play by doing something active. There's power in play to heal a broken heart and to build new neural pathways.

6 - Free yourself of fear You cannot play in a state of fear or tenseness. Find safe havens...where you can be alone and indulge in daydreams, to problem solve and help unleash your life force.

 7 - Nourish your mode of play, and be with people who nourish it, too Discover the kind of player you are and practice playing. It won't be easy if you're out of the habit. Take time out to play, and be wary of play killers and build your environment, however possible, to nourish your playful spirit.

At play in the world

Discover your play personality, like medical doctor Bowen White, whose life was transformed by Patch Adams. White found a clown within that had been dormant since his college days, but which he uncovered and used successfully in humanitarian pursuits, as well as in acting venues before medical audiences.

He continues with charity work and with Patch Adams, visiting orphanages and children's hospitals, where they connect with their play spirit. White says he needs this kind of experience, because you are in touch with the two elements play and love which open you heart, enabling you to better cope with life's challenges.

Play brings us the joy to connect with our deepest, best self and to recognize it in others. The most profound expression of play is love. The more that is realized, the better the world will be.


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