When I was younger, I like you, played my life out through different roles. Some days I felt responsible and wanted to play mummies and daddies. I sometimes spent entire holidays building tents out of whatever I could get my hands on, tying them to the foundations of my new home. I skipped, hopped and jumped across the garden using 3 old slats of wood to pass across it’s entire length, trying not to fall into the hot lava (aka grass).
One day, I decided to cut my own fringe and become a hairdresser, much to the disappointment of my parents and the spiky new fangs protruding from my forehead. I frequently became the editor of a magazine with my friend and we would write articles, discuss and create games pages, content and…hang on? Sounds familiar.
I found the pages of this magazine play a few days ago whilst clearing out some old papers, it was incredible to see how much I made sense of life through writing and creating then, as a child, and how I sit here today, decades later doing the same thing.
It made me wonder, do we ever really stop playing?
I remember picking up toys and making up stories about their lives, where they lived and their relationships. I remember them interacting with the world around them, bouncing off walls and staircases, always landing unharmed. I remember being particularly attached to a doll one summer holiday, taking her with me from place to place and unpacking her from my suitcase.
I realised this week. These weren’t their stories.
They were mine.
As I now turn to study the art of play in a therapeutic setting, I find myself being given the opportunity to to do it again. To pick figurines and decorate them in a space, to make up a story and tell it to my partner. To share what’s happening in the lives of the characters I’ve chosen and the environment I’ve created.
The happenings amongst the little green trees and the shiny marble rocks. The ins and outs of the way I shaped the playdough. The things I see and everything inbetween.
But really under it all, what is unfolding is the story of my life and the situation I am trying to understand myself in.
If I look closely under the microscope of play, I see that it rarely is spontaneous. Although it certainly feels this way. There’s a reason we’ve chosen those colours, those combinations, that character. But somehow, it feels more approachable. It takes ‘me’ out of the picture and lets me take a third-person, birds eye view of the situation.
It is a story from the unconscious and somehow this ‘Play’ is helping me to understand it.
A few weeks later, my classmates had their own revelations that our seminar on play was also their own life story unfolding through the tiny pieces of plastic and toys which illustrated the situation in those 30 minutes.
Our playmates were entasked with just witnessing and listening. It’s harder than it sounds. A pure 5 minutes of concentrated observation. Not reacting. Not commenting. Not agreeing. Neither disagreeing. Just being there as there and holding space whilst the other played and told their story. Perhaps as a parent or caretaker does for their child. This felt like an important aspect of the process, having a witness to me and my story.
To express. To be heard. To be held.
These are 3 of the most precious tools for health and healing.
I invite you this week. To seek the power of play. To observe play in others. To hold space to play. And even take a moment to play for yourself. Watch your story unfold.