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The Serious Profits of Play

By Sindhujaa Kumar for her monthly column in The Pioneer

What do the inventors of post-it notes, the microwave oven, Kevlar, Alexander Graham Bell’s prototypes and Thomas Edison’s notebooks have in common? Play!

Playful impulses live at the fault-line of self-imposed limitations. At heart, we are all adventurers. Our souls love to splash around in newness, explore and discover the wondrous worlds that lie beyond the safe shores of familiarity. If we are to live joyfully and expansively, if we are to flirt with creative freedom, if we are to meet the vibrance of our spirit – we need to play.

And as we play, as we shed labels and routines, as we shatter worn-out old casts that have turned into coffins – we stumble into genius.

It is hardly happenstance that Einstein used the phrase “combinatory play” to describe how his mind works (he came up with some of his best ideas during his violin breaks). In his letter to Jacques S. Hadamard, Einstein conjectures, “Alive and awake to the world, we amass a collection of cross-disciplinary building blocks — knowledge, memories, bits of information, sparks of inspiration, and other existing ideas — that we then combine and recombine, mostly unconsciously, into something “new.” Combinatory Play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought, breaking us out of the narrowness of our consciousness.”

Our professional output can benefit from the invigoration of play. The swift current of our joy can dissolve the debris of busyness, fear and doubt that dribble away our life force. Imagine the magic we can create in our work when we break away from our incessant, compulsive (and often negative) thinking. The US National Science Foundation had released a research that revealed: 95% of our thoughts are repetitive, and 80% of these tend to be negative if we are not mindful. This is how an average human in today’s stressful world functions. A powerful solution – playfulness.

In the thrall of play, in carving space for our many moods and curiosities, we replenish our humanness and become more ideal versions of ourselves. Play is the gateway to defining who we are and all that we wish to be.

The evolution of living beings depends on play. Play is natural among animals – it allows the creature to test its limits, develop survival strategies in a dangerous world and express belonging with another member of its flock. For humans too, our saga requires play. Language developed because we played with sounds and words. Ideas are playful reverberations of our minds. Art is play. Invention is play. Courtship is play.

The opposite of play – is depression.

Why is depression widespread today? Many reasons, but a key factor is lack of play in everyday life. When you play freely, you add colour, richness, texture and depth to your life. We know how the saying goes – all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Wisdom.

Your capacity to find delight in the world around you and engage enthusiastically, allowing yourself to have plenty of fun- helps you move with exhilaration over the shifting terrains of life. It has also been proven to improve both emotional and physical health.

How would your relationships transform if you bring zest and joy to the table every day?

How would your career emerge if you open your imagination and get the neurons sparking with aliveness and unlikely connections ?

How would your winning charisma change if you can bring humour to heated situations, merriment to conversations and jubilance to victories?

It is said that joy cannot be felt unless it is expressed.

How do you express your joy and playfulness? Do you sing, dance, jump, run wild with the wind blowing through your hair? Do you pit yourself in healthy competition or sport or play games with your friends, the way you did as a child? Do you collect music or wine or sea-shells that hold meaning to you and intertwine with the song of your soul? Do you indulge in storytelling, create your own paradise? Or do you love art – maybe you draw the eyes of a person who created a sweet storm inside you, maybe you redecorate a room by taking things apart and making them new again…

Give yourself permission to answer your longings for light-heartedness or intensity. Turn the volume up or down. Waltz with spontaneity. Keep days fresh and interesting. Hold a life-long spirit of play, making it as constant as your breath. Let play enchant your relationship to the world around you- coax your presence, your love and willingness to explore with an open heart, to learn what the world has to show you.

Play is part serendipity, part practice – go have the time of your life!

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