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Playing with Heart

Play is central to developing our human nature.

*Authored by Brooke Brown

In Playing By Heart, O. Fred Donaldson writes about the power of playing to allow people to escape from the rushed lives they live and to see the world with the transformative imaginations of children. With this perspective, surprises come in unexpected places and we can join in the history of humanity, which is ultimately playful, like the cosmos surrounding and permeating it. It is no coincidence that infants play in the womb and that children play before they are taught how to conform to culture. Adults must unlearn cultural conventions and lines of separation in order to play the way children do, which is vital to constructing a healthy life.

Donaldson wrote Playing by Heart as a philosophical piece in that he explicates his metaphysical perspective of humanity and the universe. He believes that “Play is a gift of Creation…It is the stillpoint and the energy from which all else is evoked” (p. 14) and that “Original play is our ground of being” (p. 16). He believes that there is a truth beyond experiences and that the wisdom of playing serves as a Third Eye to see what hides under surfaces. He writes about the playful interaction between the cosmos and humanity.

Socially and culturally, Donaldson denounces the way our present society often confines most play to children, depriving adults of playful experiences with its load of demands and expectations (though he does point out that scientists play, extending their curiosity to the world around them). Donaldson shares perspectives with Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept, in writing, “This play of energies back and forth is not only the pattern of intelligence between mother and child, but between each of us and life itself. This play provides our original centeredness, balance and sense of direction” (p. 25). He writes that the nature of humanity centers around playfulness.

Donaldson points out how Western society treats play as a waste of time, and how we should incorporate more touching, and more frequently, into our daily interactions with children and with one another. Donaldson relates to The Adventures of Johnny Bunko in that he mentions the presence of invitations that call us away from the well-traveled paths of life, which seem to promise security, and the way people often ignore these invitations into a world of their own desire. Playing By Heart invokes the message of Aldo Leopold’s “Thinking Like a Mountain,” even utilizing the same imagery of wolves. Hunters see wolves with their weapons, but humans in touch with the world see wolves with their hearts, as beings who share in our nature of playfulness.

Playing and touching—connecting—are vital components of living a good life. In order to construct a good life, we must see life differently, in a way that allows for the flexibility of imagination and new ideas, which bloom from anyone and anything as long as we give them space to seed and grow. We must mimic the child in his ability not to erase differences between people and objects, but to regard them as unimportant and irrelevant. Ultimately, we must incorporate time to play—with objects, ideas, and each other—into our everyday lives. Adults can relearn to play (see here) which can only help the world become a better place.

*Brooke Brown is a student at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA


Donaldson, O.F. (1993). Playing By Heart, 2nd ed. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.

Leopold, A. (1949). A Sand County almanac: And sketches here and there. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Pink, D. (2009). The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. New York, NY: Riverhead.


1 Happiness and Growth Through Play

2 Playing with Heart

3 Children May Be Playing, But Their Brains Are Working

4 Is Pretend Play Good For Kids?

5 Playing at School: More Important Than We Thought?

6 Does Too Much Screen Time Make Kids Sick?

7 Infant Couch Potatoes

8 What's Better: Indoor or Outdoor Play?

9 Why Play with a Child?