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Play to Live

by Vivienne Silver-Leigh(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 88 - May 2003

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" the saying goes, but it is true of Jill too. Why do adults need play? Wise words from David Kessler and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, co-authors of Life lessons: "Playing keeps us young at heart, puts passion in our work, and helps our relationships thrive. It rejuvenates us. To play is to live life to its stop doing what you love, is an invitation to burnout. If you don't give yourself playtime, you ultimately won't have anything to give to anyone else."[1]

How much do you play? When do I play? These are questions I ask myself today. When I took out a load of worms from the bottom of my compost bin, and shovelled them and the crumbly relics of my recycled veggies on to the front garden, it felt very satisfying. The wriggling worms had done a great transformation job on my fruit and veg waste. I turned the earth over, and hopefully created a rich enough mix for autumn bulbs. This was not gardening, so much as playing and being ten years old again. I really know very little about gardening, but I recalled the early pleasure I took in digging and creating miniature gardens, when far away from home at an austere boarding school.

Recently, after an attack of flu, feeling sorry for myself, I saw the film with the ridiculous title My big fat Greek wedding hoping it would change my mood. My Greek friend and I laughed a lot and thoroughly enjoyed it, and came out feeling completely different, lighter and more cheerful. It was laughter that I needed and which freed me from my self-pity.

My idea of playing has usually been sporty - tennis, country walks, cycling, ice-skating when a teenager. Now I swim regularly, a form of playing, as my mind switches into neutral, and I count lengths, and enjoy the feel of the water. No one knows or cares how long I swim, or what my style looks like, thank goodness. There is pure sensual pleasure in being in the water, going at my own pace, and life looks better afterwards.

I recently decided to ask what other people do for fun. The first person said golf, but then proceeded to tell me how hard it is, how much you need to think about which club to use and it did not sound like play at all. Salsa dancing seems to be the answer for an energetic woman I know, whose face lit up as she started to show the steps and swirl her hips.

A client, James, with a bad case of 'burnout' surprised me when he arrived one day by asking me where the squirrels were. He had seen them in my garden on a previous visit and was disappointed that none were around. On cue one appeared in front of the window.

James smiled, relaxed his whole body, stopped talking, saying he felt really good now. We discussed the fact that he rarely gave himself the opportunity to enjoy seeing animals and plants. He had grown up on a farm but was now living and working in the city, disregarding his cravings for contact with for nature. Nor had he made time to play his guitar any more. He changed this situation, went for walks in parks, and met up with other musicians, and began to feel much better about himself and his life.

Pure enjoyment - that is what we all need to experience, in whatever form it appeals to us. If listening to concerts or going to theatres is your idea of relaxation and switching off, then that is what you need. If rambling in the countryside and breathing fresh air works better, then get your boots on.. It is important that you find something non-competitive, otherwise it may turn into work.

Gregory, a high-powered executive whose work involves much travel around Europe which he thoroughly enjoys, was suddenly handed additional responsibility for his company in Asia. This means a double load, and he became panicky and felt pressurized. He had little time left for his family and certainly not for enjoying his hobby of horse riding. Stress signals indicated that he needed to create a more balanced life, to keep divorce and a heart attack at bay.

Leisure-time activities separate us from pressure to achieve and get somewhere. Listening to a concert, going to the theatre, we watch other people working for our enjoyment. The author of The Artist's Way recommends taking yourself out, on an 'Artist's date' each week, as a way of playing, and getting your creative energy flowing. This may mean going to a film by yourself, visiting an art gallery, or watching the ducks in the park - any activity which reconnects you to your inner spirit.[2]

The archetype of the inner child has been much talked about. The wounded part of this has had more publicity than the 'Wonder child' within each one of us: "The wonder child calls us to spiritual regeneration"(John Bradshaw).[3] Our authentic self, our spirit, becomes hidden underneath our adapted Self, which we create to fit in with our families and our cultures.

We need to keep alive the fun, the light-heartedness, the pleasure, the spirit of ourselves. Of course we cannot do without our work, but if it leaves no time for a balanced life, for light-heartedness, or fun, or creativity, then depression and fatigue may move in. I see Managers who are dedicated to their work, enjoy high salaries, but the demands on them and the excessively long hours they work mean they are in danger of becoming 'work automatons', going on the tube, reading the news, phoning non-stop and driving themselves on each day to keep going. Making room for relaxation and enjoyment of leisure activities is vital for all of us.


1. Kubler Ross Elizabeth and Kersler David. Life Lessons. Simon & Schuster Inc. 2001.stress
2. Bradshaw John. Homecoming - reclaiming your inner child. Piatkus. 1990.
3. Cameron Julia. The Artists Way - A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self. Pan Books. 1994.


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About Vivienne Silver-Leigh

Vivienne Silver-Leigh had a career first as a speech therapist, and then became a lecturer in English and counselling. She trained counsellors for five years, and now has a private practice, working as a psychotherapist, from a humanistic/integrative perspective. Following a strong interest in spirituality, she learned yoga and various forms of breathwork and meditation. She can be contacted on e-mail:

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