When we think of the tools of an herbalist, we may think of Felcos, or a first aid kit. An intake form or a Ball jar. We definitely think of the analyzing brain, sitting in a serious chair and paging through stacks of books. All of these tools are indeed helpful in providing herbal support to people. However, I propose that another important tool to explore is PLAY. Sometimes we forget how much a playful spirit can give to us! On many levels there are benefits to recommending and incorporating both physical and mental play into our lives and our practice.
Healing can be a serious business. Ailing folks come to us every day in need of our help. Listening to the stories, providing support and solutions is good work. But it IS work–and play can help us to navigate burnout.
Play helps us to build a dynamic type of herbalism, a living and breathing force, an art– instead of a dusty historical practice. Play can make herbalism and healing more holistic and can contribute to a re-vitalization of all involved. (plants too!) At its most basic level play is an outlet, and energy needs outlets. I would argue that many who come to an herbalist or other healer present with a stuck-ness or a stagnation. I do recommend herbs here for both emotional and physical movement. But to stop there feels very limited to me. I may then suggest play to:
-help us process feelings and input.
-uncover hidden aspects/roots of the problem.
-generate ideas towards a resolution.
-tap into deeper states of knowing.
-move lymphatics and promote circulation.
Play can help us to stop over-identifying as a patient or as a diagnosis, help us get out of our cyclical thinking and into a different state of being. Do you remember time just floating by while doodling or playing house, riding bikes with no destination or making out for hours? Have you ever just let go of your life and worries and embodied a mythical figure or an animal? Climbed trees or rocks all day with no plans or floated in the ocean like a seabird? It is a way of feeling integrated. Integrated into a storyline or a group of people, integrated into a piece of land or body of water….integrated into time and space. Basically the opposite of day-to-day life.
**Note that I am not promoting a disconnected state of being. Living in a fantasy world is not the same as embodied play–I am talking about grounded play which incorporates movement and has a beginning and an end.**
Play can also be a way to practice movement. For those who avoid structured exercise, play can be the solution to get moving and enjoy it. Insomnia and poor sleep quality are very common complaints–try play! Physically and mentally, the outlet supports healthy rest. Sexual dysfunction? Try play. Mild depression and anxiety? At the risk of sounding repetitive, have you played lately?
Outdoor play can help ground us and support us with fresh air and a delightfully uneven surface to navigate. (Important! Get off the concrete !) We also can practice “working play” such as foraging, tracking and gathering-a way to lose ourselves in a task that is primal and fulfilling. In a sense we lose ourselves to find ourselves–losing the 2014-responsible-wired-matching-outfit-upright-linear-worried self and finding the soiled human-animal interactive parts, the connected ancestral wild parts. Cause we are both, and more.
And ultimately play can help us to build resilience, to express ourselves more fully and to interact more with our environment and community. To grasp that we win some and we lose some, and life goes on. To see that we can take turns as “the leader”. Play is an innate drive and can be cultivated. You can’t do it “wrong”. It helps us to overcome fears and reclaim our nature, to restore ourselves and our power.
So far I have been referring mainly to practitioners suggesting play to our clients but how can we as practitioners use play to become better? Other than using play to improve our own selves, we can use it as a practice for problem-solving. How do humans gain new perspectives? Play. Have you ever needed to look at a problem differently, as a healer? Logic is great, truly, but there are times when it makes sense to get outside of that to find creative solutions.
Ultimately, play is an important problem-solving tool. It can be used in many different ways, and we can find out which way works for us. We can bridge our different levels, and bridge the separations between ourselves and others, ourselves and the earth, plants, animals-if only for a moment. Hell, don’t knock moments of bliss–they can be a moment we didn’t even know was possible…Play can help us to lose ourselves and, in so doing, to find ourselves.
Play can help us accept ourselves, help us to manage our anger, burnout and stagnation too~we can push ourselves into new levels of practice, challenge our ingrained patterns and rote ways of thinking, bust out of cycles that no longer serve us.
And, most importantly, play can bring us pleasure. A simple pleasure of feeling the sun on our backs while we lose ourselves in examining river stones or the joyful pleasure of watching our basket fill up with wild blueberries…the pleasure of touch and sensuality or sounds. The underlying pleasure and self-acceptance can be an anchor in life’s storms and ground us on our journey. Health and healing are serious undertakings, we hold other people’s lives and trust and stories with respect and compassion. But it is not THAT serious–almost nothing exists which cannot give us a moment of humor, insight or creativity if we know how to look at it through the lens of play.