The Rector's Blog
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October 19, 2017, 11:25 AM

The Importance of Play

  When I get stressed – and I do get stressed! – I find that I like to distract myself with “binge” activity.  Usually this takes the form of either re-reading Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings (all the volumes) or of watching some TV series on Amazon Prime (I’ve watched Last Ship, Battlestar Galactica, and Mission Impossible (the TV series from the 60s), for hours and days.  I tell myself this is better than binging on chocolate cookies or wine… but it’s not always constructive.  It’s essentially an avoidance technique, and not really a way to resolve the underlying causes of my stress.  It’s also a sign of fatigue, in that I don’t want to do anything that involves actual effort on my part.

  Maybe you’ve experienced something similar.  I do know people who have made healthier and more constructive choices than just sitting down and “vegging out” – they go to the gym or go for a walk or pull out their pens or paintbrushes or camera, wash the dishes, call a friend, or play with their grandchildren and thereby make endorphins using their physical and cranial muscles to wind up with something to show for their efforts.

  But a small voice inside me asks if we are supposed to be “constructively engaged” at all times.  I think in many ways I was certainly raised to think so – but then I read about the negative side-effects of programming every hour of a child’s day with no time for free play, for running around outdoors, or for the benefits of kids learning to problem-solve without adult supervision.

  We are taught to fear for our children – someone will hurt them, someone will kidnap them, someone will teach them things we’d rather they didn’t know or think.  But some of the most beloved children’s movies have plot lines about kids doing their own thing – The Goonies, The Sandlot, Matilda, Bridge to Terebithia, My Neighbor Totoro, even Home Alone

  I think adults enjoy these nearly as much as children, because they evoke a world where adventure happens, surprises await, and heroines and heroes are born.  But (aside from the obvious fact that grownups made the movies) in all these stories, the children are the principals, and we see them learn and grow in ways that our modern programmed schooling and after-schooling lives may not leave room for.

  It’s the same after we grow up, too.  You and I are locked into our routines, our responsibilities, our expectations – many formed in childhood – and we may have forgotten how to play, or the importance of play.  We’re supposed to be serious.  We’re supposed to use our time efficiently and construc-tively.  We’re supposed to be serious about self-care, and we have to make play-dates (or real dates, even with our spouses) and we have to make plans and we have to schedule time, and we have to, have to, have to…

  Sorry, but that’s too bleak a prospect for me!  I’m not particularly good at playing, but all the TV I like to watch is about adventure, mystery, surprise, danger, and it’s about cleverness, wit, unexpected strength, and learning and growing.

  Something there is in the human spirit, I think, that needs to play.  We see animals playing – dogs who chase, cats who wrestle, elephants who surely look like they’re laughing.  Maybe in these days of high-stress politics, disputes about religious freedom, natural disasters that boggle the mind, we need to be out in the woods tracking down birds or down by the river tossing stones in the stream or playing stickball in a park – with friends, with our own kids and grandkids, with the guys from work – and just simply playing and having fun.  What do you think?


   ~ Evelyn+

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