I climbed the steep hike huffing and puffing, sweating and swerving on the narrow trail. My friend, Laura and I were almost to the top, just a few more steps. My harness felt heavy and the my heart pounded inside my chest. The altitude was high but honestly my nerves were a bit high. Once to the top of the mountain, I could see everything, the trees, the hills, the camp, and the lake I would soon crash into with a force I could not yet comprehend.
Laura and I had the trained guide at this station make sure our harnesses were tight enough as he hooked us up the zip line above our heads. The only thing left to do was to run and jump off a piece of wood that stuck out over the mountain. It was liking a diving board but a very VERY high one. I had thought of turning around. I could do this once I was zipping down the mountain of course but why did I have to literally walk off a chunk of wood into thin air? I could crawl off I suppose but I what I really wanted was to get it over with already. The suspense was too much. My friend and I counted to three and took off running (read nervous skipping/trotting) into thin air and down we raced to the lake. It was absolutely exhilarating. All I could think about was the feeling of flying down the mountain. After we collided into the lake I felt so refreshed and invigorated, laughing at my shrill screaming the whole way down.
This past year something was missing from my life. I was very good about date nights, my work schedules, my self-care routine, connecting with friends, eating enough, getting enough sleep, generosity and pursuing my faith. However I think I completely left play time out of the equation, partially because working and studying for my licensure exam was so overwhelming I couldn’t think about anything else except trying to schedule in self-care like a massage or pedicure from time to time. But time to play? There was no time for that.
To be honest, I think I forgot how it felt to play this past year. We know how developmentally important it is for children to play and for our pets to play, but do we know how essential it is for adults to take time to play?
This summer I was lucky enough to remember what it felt like to play. The school year ended, I passed my first exam and Scott and I were off on many adventures of traveling to see family and to work at Young Life Camp. We got to paddle board on a lake in Minnesota, jet ski and inner tube with my sisters, ride a giant swing at camp, zip line down a mountain in Arizona, play with paint, go down water-slides in the middle of the night, go to pool parties, pick wildflowers and lastly spend time playing with our puppy. Puppies really know how to play. They are so present and in the moment. They smell and taste and feel everything right as it’s happening.
There’s something about play that makes everything come to life. The color is brighter, the smells more noticeable, the sensations more sharp.
Research shows that play actually helps shape our brain. It can help develop empathy, open up the imagination, foster creativity, and can actually help navigate complex social groups (the most surprising one to me!). **
I’d like to think play also develops resilience in us. It helps create this deep reservoir that we can draw from when life gets tough as it inevitably will. It can helps stay present and remember that our worth really isn’t tied to our productivity (as I remind myself daily).
I am excited to start integrating more play into my life. I’m curious to know how other people play. I don’t want to always have to go on a trip or back to camp to learn how to play. I want to figure out how to do it in my own backyard. How do you play? What is one thing you did this summer that felt invigorating and fun?
*Please avoid googling "adult play" #yikes
** Research done by Dr Stuart Brown (Psychiatrist) and Dr. Brene Brown (LMSW)