THE BLOG
06/30/2011 06:44 pm ET | Updated Aug 30, 2011

Rediscovering the Joy of Play

I love go-carting. I need only get behind the wheel of a go-cart and I start laughing. On my middle brother's wedding day, we took him go-carting in the morning and we laughed more than we drove. I recently lucked upon an exhibit at the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art called, "Blueprint for a Bogey." In Glasgow, a bogey refers to a homemade go-cart, built of whatever is around, and then driven with reckless abandon by their child-creators. The exhibit was about "play" -- the way in which we interfere with or restrict children's instinctive desire to play, how we seem to lose our innate ability to play as adults, and how we might reclaim that prerogative.

Did you furrow your brow at that last sentence and think, "playing isn't appropriate for adults," or some version of that thought? As adults we are so good at burdening ourselves with responsibilities, obligations, and expectations, that we sometimes feel shackled to our lives. Playing is the opposite -- free, light, spacious, and unbounded. After all, play is a creative engagement with the world, without end, or purpose. Sounds grand.

Yet, as adults, we too often find it challenging to play. Everything we do has to have an agenda, even things that look, at first blush, like play, are, on closer examination, really pursuits in which we are aiming toward a goal -- to achieve a certain skill level, to do a race or event, to get fit or lose weight, to win.

I was recently out playing on my slackline ( a tightrope-like piece of webbing, easily secured around two nicely spaced trees -- in our case, low to the soft, grassy ground) with my partner. A dog-walking woman asked "are you training for something?" Her question gave me pause. My only objective was to have fun, to relax, to enjoy hanging out in the park, listening to the thump of the basketball on the nearby court, watching the amazing variety of dogs as they sashayed past; to lean up against the fat tree and feel the rough ridges of bark digging into my back when it wasn't my turn on the line. Was I being too aimless? Did I need to get more serious?

As adults we like to have an answer to the question "why" when we are doing something. We feel uncomfortable if there's no good reason to pursue a particular activity. Add to that that we feel uncomfortable if we aren't good at something. We reach a certain age and think we ought to be accomplished at everything we pursue. Think -- how limiting is our desire or need to be expert. Add on top of that our fear of looking foolish, which increases with our age. Think more -- how limiting is our desire or need to be thought well of.

Playing unfetters us. And what a relief it is to live, even if for only short interludes, in the wide-open expanse of playtime. How much more creativity and energy we will be able to bring to the rest of our lives.

Only days after I saw the Glasgow exhibit, a group of girlfriends took me out for a "mystery activity" night. I was instructed to meet them on a particular corner, wearing casual clothes, no skirt or dress. When I saw the mechanical bull in the middle of the appointed venue, I almost balked. No way. Not with people watching me. I'd make a fool of myself (I didn't know at the time that "Sex & The City" had apparently bestowed a certain cool on the activity). Then I stopped to think more about that last -- foolish? In whose eyes? Why? And why did I care?

I rode the bull. It was fun, and almost as exhilarating as go-carting. Like a child, I could have gotten right back on for a second ride.