Most of us have witnessed something like the following at some point. An expensive present is bought for a young child. The present comes in a large box. The child opens the present and plays with the present for a few minutes, but then ends up playing with the box that contained the present for the next few hours.
What might we learn from this scenario? One thing is that children know a great deal about the simplicity and fun of unstructured, spontaneous play. It’s we adults who seem to think that play needs to involve expensive toys or expensive vacations. When a child chooses the cardboard box over the expensive toy it contained, maybe they are reminding us that the spirit of play is something that truly comes from within.
In our Living Compass Wellness program one of the eight areas we discuss and invite people to assess for themselves is “Rest and Play.” When people complete the Living Compass Self-Assessment, Rest and Play is frequently the area of wellness that most people say they want to pay more attention to. It seems that many people are feeling overworked and stressed and are yearning for the re-creation that comes from creating some true rest and play in their lives.
According to Plato, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of playing than in a year of conversation.” Plato must have believed that the soul, the essence of a person, gets expressed best in play. Perhaps this is because in order to really play you have to be “all in.” You cannot fake a spirit of playfulness–either you have it or you don’t. I know for myself that the first warning sign that I am stressed and out of balance is that I lose my sense of humor, in other words, I lose my sense of playfulness.
Summer is probably the season we most associate with play. Kids are out of school and many people take a vacation this time of year. To inspire you to rediscover the simple joy of play, I have shared the photo at the top of this column. Here’s the story that goes with that photo.
Earlier this summer my nephew Andy and his son Drew (the two and half year old in the photo) built this pirate ship out of an old box. When Andy related the story to me he said that they spent an entire afternoon creating the pirate ship and then playing pirates together in their new creation. The cost for this amazing experience? Nothing. The benefits from this experience? Priceless. Andy and Drew did more than just create a pirate ship on that summer afternoon. They also strengthened their already amazing relationship, rekindled their imaginations, and created wonderful memories.
There is still time for each of us to carve out some time for simple play this summer and in the process create some wonderful memories. For a pirate there is no greater delight than to unearth buried treasure. I am grateful for our pirate friends, Andy and Drew, for reminding us how something as simple as playing with a cardboard box all afternoon can unearth a few treasures buried within our hearts and souls as well –treasures of joy, spontaneity, laughter, and love.