Playfulness and Being Present

We’re on day 57 of lockdown and I can’t think of a better time to talk about the gift of play and why it’s so important to our mental wellbeing.

jigsaw - playfulness - Petros - good mental health

When I say play, I am covering the whole spectrum of creativity including making art, gardening, writing poetry or stories, sculpting with clay or bread dough, inventing new recipes and devising new ways of staying in touch with people we love and miss without breaking lockdown.  Playfulness is essentially a state of mind so we can be playful even when undertaking an everyday task.  Play is about being in the process rather than focusing on the end product and so, in that respect, play brings us into the present moment. 

For me, I’ve just finished the first full draft of the novel I’ve been writing for eight years and now I’ve moved on to making…a jigsaw!  The medium might be completely different but I bring the same quality of attention – focusing my mind on this one thing, as if it’s the only thing in the world to do, because in that moment, it is.

Is it escapism?  So what if it is?  What I know is that I feel changed by the experience.  My senses are open; looking, listening, touching, smelling, tasting depending on the type of play I’m engaged in.

“Every child is an artist…” Piccaso

I’ve been thrilled to watch Grayson Perry’s Art Club to see the amazingly varied contributions from people around the UK, but I’ve been particularly struck by the paintings, models and sketches from people who have never picked up a paintbrush since they were told at primary school they’ll never be an artist.  Lockdown is inviting us, challenging us even, to move past the criticisms we’ve all carried around with us and to say, “I’m just going to see what happens… “

We are being given the opportunity to reclaim something very powerful and unique.

So what does it give us? 

I don’t want to prescribe because we’re each unique in our creativity and the benefits we experience.  What I know and I’ve heard from others, is that our creativity connects us to ourselves and to others and if there’s anything that we’ve learnt from social distancing and isolation, it is just how much we need each other.  We human beings are relational in nature, regardless of whether we’re introverts or extroverts. Through our creativity we show others what our world looks like; it ‘feeds’ us – being able to escape for a while from suffering means we can recharge our batteries and feed our souls.

We can play with ideas – the healthy form of “what if?”, which I know for some has led to discovering whole new ways of generating income for themselves.  Things they may never have thought of or given space to bubble to the surface.

With the blossoming of nature, humanity, despite the COVID-19 crisis (in Chinese the word crisis is made of two symbol I’m told, danger and opportunity), is birthing or re-birthing our innate playfulness.  That playfulness which helps scientists as they experiment seeking a vaccination against the virus; that helps the Chancellor of the Exchequer devise ways of supporting people made unemployed; that playfulness that urges a woman who lost practically all of her sight, as she climbed her staircase one day, to draw an image of what she can see when she looks through her window. Grayson Perry asked her if there was a message to share, yes, she said, take time to really see what’s around you… take it in… savour it.

I’m currently reading Blake Morrison’s memoir, The Things My Mother Never Told Me and I’ve discovered a new word, ‘oodling’.  Morrison says, “… in a workaholic age like ours it’s good to be reminded of oodling.  Do people oodle any more?  Only poets, perhaps… Great poetry slows us down.  It makes us concentrate on minutiae which prove on close inspection, less minute.”

I do not want to ignore the great fear and suffering lockdown has brought for so many, however, it is an opportunity to slow down and re-evaluate what’s important in our precious lives, our precious wellbeing.

Di Gammage is a registered Dramatherapist and UKCP Registered Child & Adult Psychotherapist

Find out more about Di Gammage and her work with Petros.