It is striking how many times at book signings and casual chats thereafter that I hear this refrain in varied tones: "I just lost my job. I need to re-think my life and find my way." The faces poke at my heart. I am in no way diminishing this fear and loss of self-confidence. But, I do want to look at a very human antidote to this anxiety.

We are long on work and short on play. Let's turn our attention from the serious issue of employment, and the grave reality of unemployment for too many, and rediscover the universal human need for play. Look at the word "re/creation." We do, indeed, revive and replenish our spirits when we allow ourselves to have a good time. Leisure enlivens imagination. Relaxation stokes creativity. Play lightens our beings as it refreshes our minds.

This past week I gathered with a group of children and adults for two hours of philosophy, art, and poetry. It was great fun, and towards the end I invited everyone to go outside and play - it was a gorgeous early spring day. The doors opened and 50 people ran and laughed with arms extended high or hands held, some heads thrown back and other backs rolling down the hill. Cries of "not it!" signaled the start of a game of tag. Tall and short philosophers crouched and nuzzled up to crocus and daffodils, climbed on rocks and up trees, watched a woodpecker at work and listened as honking geese flew overhead. No instructions were needed; no goals whatsoever. JUST PLAY.

Plans were made for a picnic. A child came running with a soccer ball. A father and daughter decided to fly a kite later in the day. Parents read their children's just completed haiku poetry, recorded carefully in their new philosophy journals, and a few were inspired to try composing some of their own. A mother and teenage daughter stretched full length on the grass with faces turned towards an obliging sun. The sport of finding faces in the clouds was matched by stories of what lay beyond the mountain range. Watch out: A four-leaf clover! Whirrs of spontaneous dancing complemented the breeze. Laughter sounded natural and easy. Nature gave us a bath.

What struck me on the way home was that any separation between child and adult blurred. It was so simple. Such joy was found in putting aside cares and responsibilities long enough to nourish the spirit and prepare us for whatever comes our way. The paradox was clear to me: play makes us better at everything we do. Recreation is good business. Hah!

Stop reading and go play. You've got game.

About the Author

Marietta McCarty

Marietta McCarty is the author of Little Big Minds: Sharing Philosophy With Kids and How Philosophy Can Save Your Life: 10 Ideas That Matter Most.

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