FAST WISDOM™ NEWSLETTER
By Lonner Holden
The Wisdom of Play: Life's Foundation for Success
The three young buck’s tossed their heads, leapt side-to-side, scampered away from each other, and chased one another about the cow pasture like puppies. They were clearly playing their Black Tailed Deer version of “tag”. I could feel the delight of their frolic as the buck’s early light long shadows danced wildly across the green carpet beneath their prancing feet. Having been pretty good at the game when I was young, the deer and I had something in common - play.
Play has been around a long time. Both animals and humans have known it as an essential aspect of their evolutionary success. If we didn’t play, we didn’t develop the imagination, sensory, and kinesthetic skills we needed to stay alive. We needed the peripheral vision, agility, proprioceptive (body feedback response) instinctive presence to know what was going on around us and not have to over-think how to respond. Over-thinking delays got us eaten.
Play also connects us to each other. When we play, we “feel” each other more, we are more empathic, more responsive, more relational. Who doesn’t feel more connected to those who they play with?
There has been this fear-based survival story of human success that has dominated evolutionary theory for a long time. Personally, I don’t buy it. Neuroscience clearly demonstrates that while on one hand fear increases focused attention, it seriously compromises peripheral awareness - a necessary component of visual and kinesthetic awareness. Being both focused and peripherally aware simultaneously is the best outcome for survival awareness. Play does both.
For example, the indigenous San Bushmen men of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa are excellent Jump Ropers (rope made from plant fiber cordage). What do those men do that their group relies on? They hunt. They require the agility and quick muscle response to avoid poisonous snakes like Cobras lurking in the grass that rear up when approached, and the endurance to run down their antelope prey for days (yes, days!). Other benefits for these men Jump Roping? The trust, connection and sensitivity to their fellow Bushman men and women who turn the rope for them and may want to trip them up by changing the cadence of the turning rope. Fun puts food on the table more effectively than a pure threat motivation. I’m pretty sure that we survived by our play more than by our threat/fear response. Play gave us the increased capacity to respond, adapt, be resilient, and connect.
Studies show that “play activates the brain’s reward circuitry but not negative stress responses”. Play, while young, becomes refined into survival skills during maturing years of continued mentoring. The increasingly advanced mastery is motivated by the reward response in the brain, while bypassing the fear-limiting narrowing of attention.
Contemporary neuroscience shows that those who play more are more relational, more physically coordinated, confident, cooperative, collaborative, strategically intelligent, creative, perceptive, and just plain happy!
Play produces more oxytocin - the cooperative and affiliative hormone. Those who integrate the benefits of play make better leaders. Keeping serious consequence decision-making processes “light” produces better creative group exploration into possibilities, group connection, and, therefore, better outcomes for the
desired result, while minimizing negative competitive, oppositional processes.
How’s play working in your life? What do you do alone which makes you feel happy, lighter, more responsive, adaptable, resilient and connected to your essential self? What about playing with others? Maybe more than sitting down at a table with a fine wine and feeling good together? What’s actually available to you that you do or could do which involves others and uses your body? When’s the last time you played hide-and seek? If you have a child or grandchild, maybe five minutes ago! Yay for you!
A few years ago, I happened to be in Seattle visiting my adult daughters. It was the biggest snow in decades. Public transit came to a halt, schools closed, people were excused from work - you get the idea. We took the dog down to the park. There were snowmen everywhere! We had snowball fights with total strangers. I threw so many snowballs, my arms almost fell off from fatigue. It was so much fun. And an entire city became friends with itself because of an excess of sticky, cold white stuff. Playing made communication, peace and relaxation a healing unifier for a million people - literally overnight.
One thing we didn’t do, which I now wish we had, was jump rope in the snow.
PICK OF THE MONTH: Marin Tracking Club facilitator and good friend, Richard Vacha, will birth his new book, The Heart of Tracking, essays on the mystical, and sensory journey of animal tracking, at the Point Reyes Bookstore book opening May 30th. (See my Animal Tracking for Dummies Workshops in June at my events above!)