The Importance of Play

Female psychologist with cute little girl during play therapy

People talk about finding the child within, as though some part of us got trapped in time, stuck in an inner capsule inside us. The truth of it is though, our unconscious does not know about time and space. For the unconscious self, all time is now. Anything from our past is in some respects very present. Consider the phenomena of state being set off by a smell, a fragrance. There’s this one perfume my English and Music teacher used to wear in Grade Four. When I smell it today, I get a very real and present experience of Mrs. French, of Chapman Primary, of the reading boxes and the musty smell of damp in the corner. That smell takes me there.

Something happened when I was a teenager. I don’t recall the details of the moment, but I know the effect of that moment. It was when I said to myself, “A person like me shouldn’t read fiction”. And so I didn’t. That decision was like a door closing part of me into a dark room to wait rescue.

That is, until Christmas. My son was reading Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer), my wife was reading The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion), my other son was reading Ranger’s Apprentice (John Flanagan) and my daughter was curled up with Nineteen Minutes (Jodie Picoult). I looked around, and a crack appeared in the darkness of my soul, and in very real time my desire to read and consume fiction came up out of the basement and asked, “Why shouldn’t a person like me read fiction, it’s the holidays for God’s sake.” And so I did.

Since Boxing Day I’ve read 25 fiction books in 14 weeks. I say this neither to my shame nor to boast but to illustrate the power of appetite. It turns out that all those years I was starving hungry for a kind of food I was not feeding my soul. As a result my creativity, artistry and imagination started to atrophy.

Now that I think of it, this process of rediscovering my creative side probably began a year ago by reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The book invited me to daily exercises of creativity, journalling, writing, story telling, walking, needless collecting, wanton use of time without productive output. These exercises worked like oil on the seals of a rusty door hinge, preparing it to be cracked open at Christmas.

The latest neuroscientific research tells us how absolutely foundational childhood (childish?) desires are. Yaak Pankseep has shown that play is absolutely central to joy and happiness. Stuart Brown’s research has shown that play is fundamental to the learning circuitry in the brain – both adult and child. To my mind reading fiction is play, it is down time, it is freedom.

So my question to you is this: what creative flow have you supposedly staunched? What deal did you make with your younger self, deciding to cut off an appetite that seemed too childish.