The Value of Deep Play and its Impact on Learning and the Imagination

We need to play more. Most of us work too hard and we don’t take enough time to play. Play generates joy and replenishes and revitalizes our human spirit. It clears the mental cobwebs that keep us from thinking clearly. Play frees us from worry and stress, relaxing the brain and making it easier to be more creative.

Through play we open our receptivity to imagination, intuition and daydreams. Solutions that seemed so evasive earlier now appear effortlessly in the midst of play. Play is the root of genius. Remember how you played as a child, for your childhood passions are the clue to your genius.

I remember the first set of oil paints my father gave me for Christmas, when I was about twelve. They came in an impressive wooden box and I was captivated by the colours, as well as the wonderful unctuousness of the paint as I smeared it on canvass. One afternoon, I was allowed to stay home alone for the first time and paint. It was a brilliant sunny day in Montreal; blue sky and gleaming snow. I listened to ‘Ode to Joy’ by Beethoven, painting to my heart’s content. Pure ecstasy.

In her book Deep Play (available at Amazon), Diane Ackerman says:

Play is an activity enjoyed for its own sake. It is our brain’s favorite way of learning and maneuvering. Because we think of play as the opposite of seriousness, we don’t notice that it governs most of society—political games, in-law games, money games, love games, advertising games, to list only a few spheres where gamesmanship is rampant…

The spirit of deep play is central to the life of each person, and also to society, inspiring the visual, musical, and verbal arts; exploration and discovery; war; law; and other elements of culture we’ve come to cherish (or dread). Swept up by the deepest states of play, one feels balanced, creative, focused. Deep play is a fascinating hallmark of being human; it reveals our need to seek a special brand of transcendence, with a passion that makes thrill-seeking explicable, creativity possible, and religion inevitable. Perhaps religion seems an unlikely example of playing, but if you look at religious rites and festivals, you’ll see all the play elements, and also how deep that play can become. Religious rituals usually include dance, worship, music, and decoration. They swallow time. They are ecstatic, absorbing, rejuvenating. The word “prayer” derives from the Latin precarius, and contains the idea of uncertainty and risk. Will the entreaty be answered? Life or death may depend on the outcome.

Because a system of sacrificial rites is essentially the same the world over, Huizinga concludes

Such customs must be rooted in a very fundamental, an aboriginal layer of the human mind … the concept of play merges quite naturally with that of holiness … archaic ritual is thus sacred play, indispensable for the community, fecund of cosmic insight and social development but always play in the sense Plato gave to it—an action accomplishing itself outside and above the necessities and seriousness of everyday life. In this sphere of sacred play the child and the poet are at home with the savage.

While the rational mind is important,

“We gain a new perspective when we learn how many of the greatest scientific insights, discoveries, and revolutionary inventions appeared first to their creators as fantasies, dreams, trances, lightening-flash insights, and other non-ordinary states of consciousness.”
—Willis Harman and Howard Rheingold, from their book,Higher Creativity: Liberating the Unconscious for Breakthrough Insights (available at Amazon) 

Max Planck, the father of quantum theory, felt that the pioneer scientist must have “a vivid intuitive imagination, for new ideas are not generated by deduction, but by artistically creative imagination.”

Einstein described his theories as a “free invention of the imagination.” His creative solutions to mathematical problems did not come to him in words but as visual thought forms, which had to be rationalized later; “conventional words or other signs have to be sought for laboriously in the second stage.”

Your daydreams are a rich source of possibilities that guide you to a greater vision and unlimited future pathways. Learn to trust and listen to your inner guidance. Follow the path that gives you the most joy.

Linda Naiman

As founder of Creativity Work, I help executives and their teams develop creativity, innovation, and leadership skills via arts-based learning and design thinking. (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases on blog posts)

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