The Healing Power of Play
When’s the last time you played?
I’ve been thinking a lot about play after reading about an adventure in the rain from Kat Harris. In the post, she talked about hearing the rain as she worked inside and longing to feel it on her skin, if even just for a few minutes. After debating a work break to sneak outside, she finally gave into the urge, convinced a neighbor to join her, and took to the streets to jump in puddles.
As I read her words, I shifted in my seat. My cheeks colored a little. I felt a small burst of uncomfortability building in the pit of my stomach as I thought about an adult woman splashing in the rain.
An adult splashing. . . An adult playing.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. About play, about running in the rain, about my response of uncomfortability. I grew more curious as a feeling of longing followed soon after. When did I stop thinking about puddles, about running in rain, about being myself with full abandon?
More importantly: Why did I stop playing?
Because it’s childish? Because I was supposed to grow up? Because growing up means no more play?
I searched through files of memory and came up empty on ones that were filled a giddy kind of glee about something as simple as running in the rain. But I couldn’t deny that I sometimes felt the urges—to laugh really loudly, to run until I fall, to stop in the middle of a sidewalk, stretch my arms out wide, close my eyes, and smile at the sun on my face. But I rarely give in.
So I wondered. . . I wondered if I’d be a happier, fuller human if I allowed my body time to play. What would happen if, when silliness arrived into my bones, I let it stay and linger and turn me warm again?
A few days ago, we went to the lake. The water was hidden from our view by the small sand dunes, but as soon as we opened the car door, we could hear it—crashing over and over and over on the shore.
The wind whipped our hair, chilled our skin, and pulled our bodies one way and then the other. In the wildness of wind at play with water and sand and trees, I felt so suddenly invigorated with a rush of wildness all my own, that all I wanted to do was run as fast as I could and laugh as loud as I could and join right in with nature’s playtime.
So I did.
Later, in the car with the windows rolled down, returning from a dinner of parmesan coated fries, spicy wings, glasses of beer, and dripping Italian beef sandwiches, I could feel the wind again, and I remembered the beach. A twinge of embarrassment followed the memory. I saw my body, running and laughing and waving arms and chasing my dog, and I suddenly felt shy.
No one else had been near us on our little section of beach that day—just me, my husband, and our sweet dog—but still I felt shy.
I asked my husband if he had been embarrassed to see me play on the beach. His simple answer was no. He said to me, “I know that life has been hard for you, so seeing you feel joy makes me happy, too.”
Playing on the beach that day felt like a door of healing opening, rushing in life. And my husband’s grace to me in that moment of indulgence was the wind carrying it through to my heart. I always thought healing looked like tears in bed, long conversations on couches with therapists, soul-searching in solitude. And often times, it does.
But sometimes healing also looks like giving in to the urge to drop it all and play.
It might seem silly and it might make us feel uncomfortable, but in order to become whole people who are wholly healed, we have to give voice and space to the child within us that keeps knocking to be let out, to be heard, to be understood.
So friend, from my healing heart to yours, I invite you to play. Wherever you are, whatever you feel, follow the urge. Give in and play.
In your corner,