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  • Writer's picturedavidauten


There is something primal within us that wants to play. Our most recent familiarity with this primal, playful element is of course our youth. Whether our childhood was couched in love or colored by trauma, nurturing or inhibiting, or somewhere in between, when we are young we are in touch with and naturally touched by the inner impulse to play, and play we do, even and especially in the most dark and dire of circumstances, resourcing our playfulness as an intuitive coping mechanism, a healing touchstone, and essential counterpoint to the crucible of pain too many defenseless youngsters endure. It is perhaps because of this original friendship with the primordial power of play that children exhibit such astounding resilience, far more than many adults seem to know at times. The longer timeline, and more ancient telos of this primal element within, however, is no doubt impossible to delineate, though no less fun to speculate on. Language here falls short, for even the three-letter word “fun” and the four-letter word “play” are infinitely small in comparison to the universal origins of what has been baked into us through star fire, spanning unimaginable time, and incomprehensible space, as the cosmic clock steadily moves on and gradually winds down. Beyond origins, the playful impulse within us desires to engage not only other people but all aspects of experience—ideas and objects, trees and telemarketers, sunshine and darkness, the wind and the rain, problems and possibilities—everything. Why do we resist this ancient impulse? Why so serious, so often? When play is denied over the long-term we become anhedonic, incapable of experiencing sustained pleasure in life, as Dr. Stuart Brown notes in his research with the National Institute of Play. “Of all animal species,” Brown observes, “humans are the biggest players of all. We are built to play and built through play. When we play, we are engaged in the purest expression of our humanity, the truest expression of our individuality. Is it any wonder that often the times we feel most alive, those that make up our best memories, are moments of play? Stepping out of a normal routine, finding novelty, being open to serendipity, enjoying the unexpected, embracing a little risk, and finding pleasure in the heightened vividness of life. These are all qualities of a state of play.” They are native to consciousness, and they are essential to a life lived well.


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