Revisiting Playfulness: Do We Get Old When We Stop Playing?
The four Indonesian boys, all small but ranging in age from 12 to 14, led us along a tree-lined path. The fenceposts to either side of us as we left the island village were sprouting trees, a testament to the proliferating growth and superb soil of these many islands.
You simply cut off a branch, plunk it into the soil, and voila! Another tree leaps into life.
Just one of many wonders.
As we followed – and ‘we’ included mostly people in their 50s and 60s, all of whom had disembarked from The Katharina, of SeaTrekBali – we took in the crops, the streams, the constant laughter of the kids in front of us. Where to this time?
Finally, we rounded a bend to the right and were rewarded by the sight of a distant waterfall, a broad, rock-lined stream and plenty of huge overhanging trees.
The boys instantly shed their shirts and ran to the large rock over which the cool water rushed to splash into a large, deep pool below.
One boy grabbed a long, strong rope that had been secured to a thick branch overhead, and in seconds he was airborne. He swung twice, using the rock to give him height, then released the rope and plunged merrily into the cool water.
There wasn’t much of a current, so the kid easily made his way to the ladder on the far side to do it again. Hm. Are we watching, or playing? What would you do?
Take the Leap
I shed my shoes and shirt – I had on a workout top and shorts – and ran to the rock. One of the other men had already beaten me to the punch and was on his way, arcing above and then down into the pool.
Hell, here goes, I thought. I took a running leap, found my height and loosed the rope.
SPLASH! The water felt like heaven on this hot, sweaty day. The other women watched. Sat. Muddled.
Should we? Can I? Oh… I don’t know.
By the time I’d taken my sixth or seventh leap, one woman from Seattle had taken the plunge. She was giddy.
As we should be when we play.
The kids continued to encourage us. Roger, in his 70s, from England, shed his shirt and was soon splashing alongside us.
Southern Summers and Cooling Off
As someone who grew up in the Deep South, I have an intimate relationship with fresh water, rope swings and pool play.
The South has wicked-hot summers. Those of us fortunate to have grown up on or around a lake or a pool spent endless hours hurling ourselves with great and joyous abandon into the cool, and sometimes damned cold waters.
Others, whose parents delivered them for a day at the community pool, had much the same experience, minus the tree ropes, leaping off diving boards and daring each other to do backflips.
We laughed ourselves silly.
As did those of us who were playing with the kids, this marvelous day in paradise.
The Katharina took us to islands where tourists didn’t go. That means we got to play alongside the villagers, bask in the freedom of crowdless spots of wondrous beauty, and revisit the pleasure of play.
That is, if we allowed ourselves.
While there was no pressure to use the rope, the cool pool remained big and inviting, with plenty of space for us to simply soak, swim and dog paddle. Yet some never did.
One of the best aspects of the eight-day cruise I was on with SeaTrekBali was this kind of play time. When we give ourselves permission to play, we revisit the best and most creative parts of ourselves. We tickle our funny bones. We relax. Above all, we remember what it’s like to be care free.
Oh, Grow Up!
We were often told to grow up, and we did. All of us. However, at 65, I regularly opt for any opportunity to find my inner kid, laugh like a banshee and poke fun at my adult self.
Being child-like is not child-ish.
It’s a journey to joy all over again in that way, as children, we found daily, regularly, and with utter abandon. Never worrying about looking silly. If anything, silliness is the whole point of play.
Part of the wonder of being alive is giving yourself permission to play. Adulthood doesn’t need to be defined by seriousness. If anything, a serious dash of splash every once in a while makes us more effective, inventive and productive.
To say nothing of adding sheer happiness.
We don’t stop playing as we get old. We get old when we stop playing. Giving ourselves permission to experience real play is part of what keeps us young.
When was the last time you took time to play? What did you do? How does being playful add value to your life? Please share your favorite ways to play!
Julia Hubbel is a prize-winning author, journalist, international business and women’s conference speaker and international adventure traveler. Her work teaches people how to erase the impossible and redefine their boundaries. As a sales and leadership trainer, her work focuses on success skills and finding the courage to be your best.