This has been a week. I was diagnosed with pneumonia, my stepson his wife and two toddlers arrived to spend spring break with us, my twelve-year old was sick, the weather turned cold after a brief flirtation with spring, and we have a project at work that is requiring some extra time and thought. Just life. But I felt myself losing focus, worrying about all the minutia, my creative projects suddenly dead weights, and my inspiration for teaching, blogging, writing and even knitting seeping away like water into sand.
I called around to neighbors and friends, attempting to collect all the baby equipment that we no longer owned. I called a woman down the street whose kids were just a few years older than my grandkids. When I told her about the imminent arrival of the Vermont Bakers, her response was “What fun!” I was momentarily stunned, the way you are when the paradigm shifts, when you realize the lens you’ve been viewing things through may be just a little distorted. That’s right! I thought, and the idea of fun blossomed in me like one of those silly gelatin capsule toys you put in water and leave overnight–like the grow your own boyfriend toy I gave my teenager daughter. Only mine would be called grow your own inner child.
Even though I advocate play and try to create conditions for it, I don’t come to it naturally. I was a serious child, the responsible oldest of six, and I distinguished myself by my sober nature. As a teenager, other mothers were always happy when I was friends with their kids, because I never got into trouble. ( Now I find that fact rather damning.) So it is ironic that I, Dear Reader, should be preaching the glories of play.
Thomas Moore, in his book, Dark Nights of the Soul, talks about the importance of reconnecting with your childhood in order to connect with your creativity. He suggests things as simple as making the food of your childhood, visiting places you lived as a child, reconnecting with the people who knew you as a child, and learning to be humble as ways to access the inner child.
In my writing workshops, I try to create a space where people can play. I have seen and experienced, over and over, unexpected transformations that arise out of a sense of play. One of the members of our new group at the Cancer Center said to me last week that she was so happy that we were working with fairy tales and the metaphors and images that arise out of them. “I was afraid I was going to have to write my story,” she said, “but this is so much more fun.”
What does fun have to do with healing? Donald Winnicott, the child psychologist, said this about play and healing:
Healing brings the patient from a state of not being able to play into a state of being able to play….It is only in playing that the child or adult is able to be creative, and it is only by being creative that the individual discovers the self.
Marie-Louise von Franz brings yet another perspective to why play can help restore health. In play, we are able to connect with the unconscious and with it experience the archetypal energies that she claims leads to healing transformations:
All the techniques we use help people open up to the archetypal experience. But only the unconscious sends an archetypal experience, and that is an act of grace we cannot force. We can only wait and prepare for it and hope it will happen.
In play, we can lose ourselves, and enter into new possibilities. Paradoxically, it is also where we can find ourselves.
Last night, waiting for my family to come back from the airport, I got a call from my four-year old granddaughter, Ivy.
“We are so close to your house that my mom says she can smell Adam’s feet!” she shrieked and giggled. I found myself giggling back. “Well, I can smell your feet,” I countered.
Let the games begin.