Borderstan Candids: Practicing Playfulness

by September 21, 2012 at 4:00 pm 1,287 0

From Candida Mannozzi. You can reach her at candida[AT]


Kids at play. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Borderstan, I’ve been thinking lately about playfulness. Time spent with my little niece and nephew reminds me how much fun it is (at least, to me) to play with small children.

This triggered a related thought: Do we adults practice a sense of playfulness, and is it important that we do? I think it is.

Children play, but what we don’t tell them (because it would suck all the wind out of their sails) is that as they play, they stretch their imagination by taking their dolls on an exploration of Aztec temples and volcanic lakes in the hallway and dining room; they learn about the world they’re in during a walk in the local park observing trees, flowers, beetles and acorns; they acquire new skills by throwing balls and playing chase; they make discoveries which help them grow and mature. Meanwhile, all they think they’re doing is having fun!

Play is essential to growth, but it offers growth and learning in a more entertaining package than, say, sitting in a classroom, fretting before your mid-term exam. I try to practice playfulness even as an adult, because it keeps me happier, allows me excitement and discovery, and helps me find a counterbalance to those less positive moments, things, and beings I will inevitably encounter.

Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way[1] suggests we make “artist’s dates” with ourselves. These dates can be things like taking a walk in your favorite park, trying out a new recipe from scratch, playing music that makes you want to jump up and dance to it, collecting pretty fall leaves to create a seasonal centerpiece with… the choices are endless.

I’ve gone to local parks and hopped back on the swings, much to my surprised elation. I try out new workout routines or martial arts, feeling a sense of empowerment that I didn’t have before. I love to cook up something new in my kitchen, and it often helps me do the same with my imagination, when I next sit down to write. I sometimes make playfulness as simple as purposely walking into each puddle along my path on a rainy day, just because my wellies let me!

You’ve probably heard mention of “practicing mindfulness,” if you’ve taken a yoga class or a guided meditation. The idea is that you focus your awareness on the here and now, on the pose you are striving for (in the yoga class), on staying focused on your breath or the mantra (in meditation). You get better at it, with patience and practice. I am reminded of the slogan of a gym I used to go to: “Play Hard and Grow.” Even boxers and martial artists consider play an important part of their strength.

Well, why not get better at practicing playfulness? I am convinced that practicing playfulness is not a whimsical or frivolous privilege for the lucky few. It’s a key to keeping our curiosity alive, our moods in an upswing, and our hearts and minds open to adventure and life. We concentrate, when we play. Playing forces us to be present; worries and stress have no place in our minds, when we are busy cooking a brand new mole, trying some new athletic feat, practicing a musical passage, or playwrestling with a giggling, squealing “victim.”

We stay young and happy by playing, and I am grateful to live in a city and a neighborhood that offer so many options to do just that!

[1] Cameron, Julia, The Artist’s Way, Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam, New York, 1992, 2002 (with reprints).

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