Play is Life

November 14, 2009

I am reading the book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, M.D. It’s shifting my perspective and filling in a lot of the blanks for me about life design and my own natural way of being. This is likely to be one of the defining moments of my life, like first learning about Jungian analytical psychology, or having my first course in play therapy, or finding my three creative self-employment muses, Valerie Young, Barbara Winter, and Barbara Sher.

In fact, I first picked up this book at the Barnes & Noble library because Barbara Winter had mentioned it so many times in her newsletters, both e-mail and hard copy (Winning Ways), in blog posts, and in Twitter chirps. Many, many thanks to Barbara Winter for her natural way of being which is to say, “Ooooh! Look what I found! I think you’ll like this,” and to do so with joy and enthusiasm for how it will improve our lives.

Lest you think I’ve gone a little histrionic here, or maybe a touch manic, proclaiming a book on the study of play to have the potential to transform my life, I share this quote:

When we stop playing, we stop developing, and when that happens, the laws of entropy take over – things fall apart. Ultimately, we share the fate of the sea squirt (*) and become vegetative, staying in one spot, not fully interacting with the world, more plan than animal. When we stop playing, we start dying.

The quote includes a reference to the sea squirt (*). Earlier in the book Dr. Brown has explained that the sea squirt, a simple life form, has a primitive brain in its youth and moves around showing play behavior. But as an adult it chooses a spot, attaches itself, and stays in one place. It does absolutely nothing but filter food from the water. No longer needing to “think” in any way, it digests its own brain.

It seems play is the engine of growth and development through the lifespan. When people settle into ruts and stop exploring and developing themselves, they become rigid in their thinking and their patterns, and they start losing their abilities. Cognitive psychologists have known for decades that new learning and novel problems stimulate the brain and keep people’s minds more adept as their bodies age. Those who only do the things they’ve learned in the past lose cognitive functioning (thinking, remembering, problem-solving) more quickly than those who learn new things and try solving different kinds of puzzles, including numbers, words, and shapes. Heed the sea squirt!

When we stop playing, we start dying.

May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,

Steve Coxsey


One Response to “Play is Life”

  1. Darcy on December 3rd, 2009 7:21 pm

    Steve, that book sounds excellent. And I love the line “Heed the sea squirt!” I am totally going to start using that 🙂

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