Permission to Play

It’s summer now. Are you playing?

“…When we play, we…celebrate holy uselessness. Like the calf frolicking in the meadow, we need no pretense or excuses. Work is productive; play, in its disinterestedness and self-forgetting, can be fruitful." Toward Holy Ground - Margaret Guenther

When I was a kid in the 1960s, play in the summer meant chasing the ice cream truck, eating creamsicles and Italian ice, playing four square, hula hoops and jump rope; running under the sprinkler, performing rain dances, looking for shells and playing in the waves at the beach. As the sun would fade into twilight, my friends and I would chase the moon, running through our neighbors’ cool grass in pajamas, or play hide and go seek or kick the can.

The world is ripe for play in the summer.

To play is:  To act in a manner such that one has fun; to engage in activities expressly for the purpose of recreation –

We usually associate play with children, telling them “Go out and play!” there are playdates, playmates and playdoh. We don’t really think of adults playing.

Why did we stop playing? What is at the heart of playing and why is it good? How is playing in alignment with spirituality and our souls? And how can we allow ourselves to do it more?

Most of us here grew up in the Judao Christian tradition where we were taught that we have one shot at this thing called life, so we better not screw it up or we might go to hell. Many of us were brought up to believe that we were born with original sin, and we learned to feel guilty for things that aren’t even our fault or aren’t wrong. These kinds of beliefs don’t exactly motivate us to be lighthearted, carefree and have fun. Add in the Puritan work ethic upon which our country was founded, which values hard work, and frugality, and it’s a wonder we played at all. As U.S. Americans we also have a reputation for living to work vs. working to live. Many of us are perfectionists and tend to deny ourselves permission to do something, unless we can do it perfectly, or it’s “productive”. Even when we go on vacation, many of us have a “to do” list fo recreational items. We’re brought up to achieve results, with not much value given to enjoying the process for its own sake. We feel guilty if we’re just having fun without producing anything.

When it comes to play, whether it’s riding a bike, playing a game, sport or instrument, blowing bubbles or doing cartwheels, many of us are out of practice.

Scientific Evidence for Benefits of Play in the Animal Kingdom

Thanks to Stuart Brown, psychiatrist and founder of "The National Institute of Play", we now have this ample scientific evidence.  Examples include bison running onto icy lakes, skating across then doing it again, hippos doing back flips in water over and over. There’s no goal, no survival reason. Play is a way animals can try out new things safely. Neuroscientists point to a strong link between play and brain size.  When domestic and other animals are deprived from playing, they don’t develop a normal brain. Kittens deprived of play are unable to interact socially.They can still hunt, but they can't be social. Bears that play more survive longer.  

With humans, A neurologist discovered that if someone hasn't done stuff with their hands early in life, played with their hands, they can't problem-solve as well. So play has a practical importance.  The brain lights up when we play. Play helps contextual memory be developed and has been shown to stimulate neural growth.  We develop more emotional maturity and better decision-making skills if we play more. At risk populations and hard core criminals were often deprived of play.

Play energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.
- Stuart

Kinds of Play:

There's rough and tumble play, social play, and imaginative play. Play is pleasurable. It feels good. It’s purposeless and fun. It’s about fooling around and being silly. When we’re truly playing, we lose all sense of time and enter that flow state. We lose our sense of self and feel at one with whatever we’re doing. Play is characterized by feelings of aliveness, imagination, awe, wonder, creativity, resourcefulness, relaxation and joy. Play can give rise to greater confidence and a sense of empowerment. It’s also rejuvenating.

Spiritual Endorsements for Play:

When Hindus speak of the creation of the universe, they don’t call it the work of God, they call it the play of God, the Vishnu-lila, lila meaning "play." And they look upon the whole manifestation of all the universes as a play, a sport, a kind of dance. Indian people have said: “God created the world in the spirit of Lila, like a child who builds sandcastles and then unattached to his or her creation knocks it down and builds it again.”

In Zen Buddhism, you have the “koh-ahn” or riddle which is “designed to exhaust the analytic intellect and the will, leaving the mind open for response on an intuitive level.” A riddle is a kind of play and Play gets us in touch with our intuition.

In the Bible Jesus said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." In Matthew he also said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Children are open, innocent, real and playful.

When we allow ourselves to play, we’re giving ourselves permission to be who we truly are

There’s an innocence, a purity, a letting go of self-consciousness and immersion in something pleasurable, just for the sake of feeling good and for no other reason. There’s no agenda, no manipulation. Our spirit will always urge us to play, as our spirit is always seeking the highest feeling of joy and aliveness. Spirit is drawn to fun. It’s our mind that puts the brakes on. “Play is frivolous” “I don’t have time”… When our spirit says “Hey, this would be fun!” and we say “Ya, let’s do it!” we’re aligning with our spirit, with God. It’s been shown that everything is energy, vibrating at different speeds, with the essence of God - joy, love and truth, being the highest vibration. If playing makes us come alive and feel more joyful, connected and empowered, then it’s helping us align with who we really are – Divinity itself. If we want to connect with and experience our God consciousness, we need to play. And in this connection, we’re spreading that higher vibe, that light, all around us, and opening others to the possibility of doing the same. To deny ourselves play, is to deny our connection with our spirit or God.

One of my favorite quotes by Jesus is in Matthew 7:20 “By their fruits you will know them”. Don’t you want to be known by the fruits of play, which include joy, aliveness, empowerment, and flow?

5 Ways to Get Back to Play:

1.   Get into your heart energy and let go of play saboteurs that come from the mind. Become aware of the thoughts that keep you from play and reframe them. For example, change “Playing is a luxury” to “Playing is a necessity for me to feel recharged and alive.”

2.   Remember back to when you were a kid having the most fun – what were you doing? Who were you with? How did you feel when you were playing? Imagine it’s happening now. What would feel like fun now? For example, I used to float in a black tire tube in my cousin’s pond in the summer. Now I float in a tube down the French broad river with friends.

3.   Find role models to inspire you. Movies like “Harold and Maude” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” are wonderful for inspiring play. The author SARK is another one.

4.   Give yourself permission. Let go of perfectionism and productivity and enjoy the process. Your only gauge should be how you’re feeling. When you’re feeling joy, aliveness and having fun, you’re in alignment with God, with the Divine.

5.   Invite your friends to play.

Chew quietly your sweet sugarcane God-Love, and stay playfully childish. -Rumi


I invite you to go into silent meditation…as a springboard, think about the following… imagine a time when you were feeling really alive and in the zone as a kid. You were playing and having a blast. what were you doing? Who were you with? Let go and allow whatever arises to bubble to the surface. After several minutes, when you feel you’re complete, open your eyes and write down what came to you.


The National Institute of Play:




Barbara Bradyplay, fun