We all need a break sometimes. When we’re kids, breaks are given freely during playtime and nap-time. The importance of play to psychological development has received a lot attention as we watch our kids feel the pressure to achieve more and more at a younger and younger age. This pressure, though, extends to us parents, too. By understanding the importance of ritual and play to our identity, we can better recognize when we need a break and what it should look like.
The most normal and competent child encounters what seems like insurmountable problems in living. But by playing them out, in the way he chooses, he may become able to cope with them in a step‑by‑step process. He often does so in symbolic ways that are hard for even him to understand, as he is reacting to inner processes whose origin may be buried deep in his unconscious. – Bruno Bettleheim
I think Bettleheim’s assessment is as applicable to us adults as it is to our children. As technology infiltrates our lives, it is increasingly difficult for all of us to be “on vacation” or “out of touch.” Our moments are crammed full of information and activities – from compulsively checking our smart phones to over-booking our days so we don’t have any time to decompress. The net effect is a slow but sure erosion of our lives into a never-ending to-do list. We may not even know when we need a break.
What I know is that play is a necessary component to a full and fulfilling life. In fact, ritual, play, and creativity are central to the evolution of consciousness and culture.
Ritual – whether it has it’s roots in religious, cultural, or personal expression – allows us to create a symbolic container for our experience and work towards a desired outcome. Rituals allows us to mark something that holds importance to us. It provides a means of working towards a solution or resolution to something that remains unresolved in our lives. Play, on the other hand, refers to the process rather than the outcome. At it’s best, play is a pleasurable expression of our essence and that leads us in unexpected directions.
While ritual is often associated with religion and religious practice, recent research suggests that ritual may be more rational and secular that it appears. According to an article in Scientific American, “even simple rituals can be extremely effective. Rituals performed after experiencing losses – from loved ones to lotteries – do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks – like singing in public – do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. What’s more, rituals appear to benefit people who claim not to believe that rituals work. Recently, a series of investigations by psychologists have revealed intriguing new results demonstrating that rituals can have a causal impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.”
At it’s core, ritual permits us time and space to contemplate and honor meaningful connections in our life, while play takes us outside the parameters of our daily lives and into a sense of timeless creativity.
Dr. Stuart Brown from the National Institute of Play defines play as a voluntary and pleasurable act that “offers a sense of engagement, takes you out of time” and whose efforts are “more important than the outcome.”
The effects of play can be profound as it allows adults and children to express parts of themselves that don’t come out in everyday activities. Further, play creates novel alternatives to otherwise ordinary situations and trains us to have fun. Play also kick-starts our creativity and prompts us to use it in the manifestation of something external to us. This process reveals what is most important to us because we tend to innovate around what we believe is most relevant. Play and ritual are both integral to our understanding of the nature of who we are. When we need a break, turning to play and ritual are a good place to start.
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