The Power of Play
It will surprise many of you to know that being a touring Folksinger was a pragmatic 2nd choice career for me. First and foremost, I wanted to be an ASTRONAUT! Dad and I would watch launches on TV and we would read about the space program in National Geographic, Smithsonian, Popular Science, and Popular Mechanics. My childhood friends and I would build rockets, starships, moon cruisers, and interplanetary transports out of Lego. And when Star Wars came out, and then Star Trek Next Generation, we got to imagine through those characters some of what life might be like in other parts of the galaxy and the universe. And it wasn’t just space adventures we imagined with our Lego kits. We engaged in Terrestrial explorations as well. The fun thing about a Lego person is that they are big enough to actually play with and small enough that you can make whole scenes and ecosystems out of construction dirt piles, grassy hills, a small patch of forest floor, a huge snowdrift, icicles, sand dunes, rocks and boulders, etc. Anywhere you look there is an environment rich with possibility, if you are looking through the scale lens of Lego people.
I bring this up, because I think that too few adults remember to play. We get so busy doing adult things, working our jobs, paying our bills and raising children, running businesses and organizations, dealing with medical paperwork, taxes and various other administrative duties that we forget to play. I mean really PLAY. We forget how to loose ourselves in imagination, how to let go of the mundane and pretend that we are adventurers in Antarctica, or on Jupiter’s moon, Europa. We forget that we can fly; we can be racecar drivers, artists, pilots, archeologists, or explorers. We forget to play games. And even when we do play, sometimes we forget that winning isn’t the point of the game, playing is! But that remembering is never too far away.
A few years ago when I was going through a divorce, I reconnected with Lego. I had been a fan of HO Scale Model Trains for a long time. But then I needed to move and the trains got packed up. And I started to play with Lego again. It is a more portable hobby. I remembered how much fun I had found in my younger years, and I was amazed to see how many more multi-dimensional pieces had come into existence within the Lego universe. Instead of just building up, one could now build out and down and in nearly any direction one chose. Lego has transcended the bricks of my childhood, and is now a vivid tool for thinking outside of traditional spatial relationships.
As I began again to play with Lego, and to collect new Lego sets, I began to imagine new things and build even cooler spaceships than ever! And I fell in love with the Arctic Adventure series kits as well. So recently, on a day when it got down to -31 degrees Fahrenheit (actual) in Illinois, I decided to stage an outdoor Lego photo shoot. Yes. I am just a little bit crazy. But you knew that already.
It was a beautiful day, so cold and the sky so bright. Everything was closed and snow was drifting and piling up everywhere. I put on my long johns, heavy snow boots, parka and facemask, and went adventuring. I felt like a National Geographic photographer. I got about 10-15 shots per battery before I had to switch them out, and about every 30 shots I had to come back in the house to warm up the camera batteries and myself. But the pictures were amazing. And for nearly three hours – I was at one with my mini Arctic adventurers, struggling against the elements and endeavoring to persevere in adverse conditions to accomplish the mission. I felt like Earnest Shackleton in a cornfield.
I have not had that much fun in YEARS. What a blast! Character acting at its best. I was in the heart of the adventure with my little Lego people, capturing the activities of the scientists who had discovered a Wooly Mammoth frozen in an Arctic glacier, revealed as a result of climate change. For several hours, I forgot about being an adult, and just remembered how to play. I remembered the practice of surrendering into the moment, living in the now, seeing the potential adventure in the mundane, and seizing the moment when the universe conspired to create the perfect snow-day!
I’d like to be able to explain what specific bit of productivity will spin off of that photo shoot in miniature. I would like to tell you that it triggered some quantifiable bit of creativity that will emerge publically in my music and art. I can’t do that. The scientists who started to play with X-Rays had no idea in the beginning, that there was any practical application. It was just exploration. I have no idea what will spring forth from creativity, but I believe that it is a practice like Yoga or Buddhist meditation. Engaging our creativity is a practice that helps us solve other problems, because we learn how to see things from a different perspective.
Maybe I will get to Antarctica one day, maybe commercial space travel will allow dreamers like me to go for the ride of a lifetime and see the earth from the same vantage point as John Glenn or James Lovell or Sally Ride. But even if I don’t, I am comforted to know that we are as humans, still dreaming. We are dreaming again not just of mastering the knowable, but taking leaps into the unknown. Space-X and NASA will put humans back into orbit, this year. And plans are actually underway for viable missions to The Moon and to Mars. That is incredibly inspiring to me. Maybe my link to the heavens will forever be Lego, imagination, and videos and photos shot by actual astronauts and robots. But in the spaces of my mind, the two merge and become one in my playtime. Play both grounds me in reality and allows me to surrender it for a while at the same time. Play is good. Play is necessary. I think if more adults remembered to play in spite of our difficulties, I think we would all be happier. Play is a totally valid and necessary physical, mental, and spiritual practice.
What does play look like to you? What releases your imagination and allows you to dream? If you don’t know, I hope you find it soon. Because there is nothing healthier in my opinion, than laying our burdens down for a spell and remembering that we are as humans, dreamers! So, DREAM ON!
In Gratitude and Song,