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Several chapters are included for consideration. Please note that only the "Backword" section of the Introduction is included here.


It was Wednesday, the day I teach "creative living" to a class of older adults at a local community college. Our topic, chosen by me, was play, and I'd brought a blue beach ball to pass around our circle, literally to "get the ball rolling." As the ball went around the circle, each person was asked to share something about what the word play conjured up for them.

When it was 85-year-old Constance's turn, she said, "I am reminded of a game I used to play as a child. You bounced a ball to another person, across the crack in the cement, and they had to catch it in a single bounce." As if gearing up, Constance let the ball gently drop to the floor, catching it in both hands as it came bouncing back up. She repeated the movement two or three more times.

"Foursquare! I played that game!" said Ben, just turned 91. Constance got up out of her seat, ordering Ben to his feet as well. "Let's play, then!" she said.

In sheer delight, I watched these two student elders, now my teachers, playing ball. Although they were the two oldest and physically weakest members of the class, they were like two animated kids, spry again. I drifted into my own recollections of such friendship, collaboration, and creative ingenuity.

When satisfied, Ben and Constance, with measured steps, returned to their seats, their joints having gotten a wee lube job, their faces alive and soft with pleasure, their eyes mischievous storytellers.

Looking around the room, I saw that most of my class members were quietly relaxing, peacefully enjoying the unexpected spectacle. All except for Patsy who sat with furrowed brow and tight eyes, looking a bit harried. Patsy often had trouble with the creative or expressive games I brought to class as a teaching tool, as a context for self-discovery. But I was startled to see the strain in her demeanor after such an exuberant display.

"What's up with you, Pat?" I asked. "You look as if you're worried or upset."

"What's the point?" she asked, challenging me with her stare. "What has this got to do with learning anything useful?"

My answer to her question, and the deep sigh it produced within me, is this book.


"Being a playmate is a total response." - O. Fred Donaldson

"Let's get Fred!"
I stared with a mixture of amazement and horror as four hollering boys simultaneously rushed their play instructor in a warlike attack of eight gleaming eyes, arms, and legs meant to do as much bodily damage as possible. In awe, I watched play master O. Fred Donaldson receive each of his four attackers in what could only be described as a rolling embrace to the ground, transforming hellish intentions into playful acts of grace. Fred had something more than sheer mastery of the martial art of aikido; he had a fierce love of children, especially children who had been abused, neglected, or born severely handicapped. And he had a passion and deep appreciation for the play he dubs the "universal language of belonging."

Fred Donaldson was on staff at a special elementary school in Hemet, California. I had arranged a visit to see him in action at the Hemet school after reading his brave book, Playing by Heart: The Vision & Practice of Belonging. The subjects of play and laughter and the belonging and healing it engenders have not been taken seriously enough as manuscript fodder by many, so I gobbled up any mention it received from authors, poets, and thinkers along the Path.

My reading, plus several years of facilitating my own creative improvisational play workouts, had made me a convert to the serious need for play. But if knowing how to truly play is a requisite for soulful living, the art is all but lost to most of us early on. Donaldson's substantial research indicated that the sense of wonder found in innocent play is forgotten by the tender age of six, substituted by pressured competitions and self-conscious performance.

I had come to observe this master player who purported to use only his body-his personal self in his play, never toys or other devices. It was the connection with the other-the embrace of other in the spontaneous bite of the moment- that was his intended goal, if the idea of a "goal" is even appropriate here. Fred's robust devotion to play as an act of love and surrender, as a statement of power and steadfastness, was evident. I felt weak and cowardly in his shadow.

"Do you want to catch Mathew?" asked Fred, watching me.

Fred caught me by surprise. Mathew was a ten-year-old, 70-pound locomotive whose sole playground purpose appeared to be trying to knock down the adult into whose arms he thundered. I had a bad back; should I even try?

Not wanting to be a sissy, I said, "OK. But is there some way to protect my back?"

Fred gave me instructions, which basically were to completely sink into the entire contact and roll with it, a form of complete surrender. Scared, I opened my arms to Mathew who took all of three seconds to decide to take me up on my dare.

Screeching like a banshee, the small but muscular boy who had been physically and emotionally abused by his former caretakers, rushed into my face, hitting my chest with the force of what seemed like a young bull. Somehow I let go into it, falling towards the ground as his body crashed into mine. Wrapping up in the child, all arms and legs entwined in a dizzy flash, my fears melted into a safe sprawl on safe ground.

This was not the play I had anticipated. Fred's playground is for the hardy and daring. Even with skill, my mentor had incurred a number of bone breaks, severe cuts, and bruises. He had cut his play teeth interacting with wild animals like bears and wolves and wild children like Mathew. Fred had a fierce, fully embodied understanding of the deep connection that playmates make. Unflinchingly he told of its intimate, inherently sensual, wholly unpretentious, and sacred nature, reminding me how my playmates were people, dogs, and clouds.

Watching him at work in play and experiencing Mathew were a part of what I would refer to four years later as "expressing the hell out of myself." What better way to make room for heaven?

AFFIRMATION: I courageously put my whole self into play. I dare to trust my connection to life to keep me safe while I explore the play of this moment.

TRUST IN PLAY EXERCISE. In your home or neighborhood, perhaps in a nearby park, watch very young children or animals playing. Animals will be the less inhibited, so begin there, if you can. Notice how play is instigated, kept going, and how it stops naturally (unless it is interrupted, often by humans). What is the basic nature of play? When observing kids, pay attention to how they use their bodies, sounds, and movements to express whatever they are feeling-or want to be feeling. Observe how play incites imagination and creative invention, how it is a mode for learning, finding, or trying things out. If possible, observe older children, 8 to 11 years of age. Are they as free and spontaneous as their younger siblings? Is friendship as readily extended? How so? Record your observations and begin to pay attention to how you play now, and stay open to growth.


"Playfulness is essential to creative fire." - Clarissa Pinkola Estes

What we call creativity is awesome. Creativity is at once the most ordinary thing in the world, and the most outlandish. It is an endowment of the gods.

Creativity is commonly associated only with artists, inventors, and, in general, with people who have unusual or outstanding capabilities. Yet creativity is a trait that is within each of us, 24 hours a day. It is the mysterious faculty that lets us make something happen, bring something into being. That "something" may be as simple as a thought form, or as complex as building an empire. You're creating when you paint a watercolor portrait, invent a recipe, or write a poem-or even make out your grocery list. Consider yourself creative when you dream a nightmare, tell a white lie, shower your beloved with a flurry of kisses, or clean out the closets with gusto on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Our native creative faculty enables us to construct fulfilling lives. If you are not feeling creative at any time, you need only lighten up and let playfulness in. However, even though creativity-like playfulness-is inherent in everyone, we must each develop the ability to apply our God-given gifts to the fine art of living well. I call this adaptability "Creative Intelligence," or "Creative IQ" (CIQ) for short. Boosting CIQ means more play, more joy, vitality, originality, and connection. More life mastery.

Experts in the field of creativity tell us we need a playful attitude to allow the "juices" to flow, and to bring enjoyment and a sense of adventure to our endeavors. Creative play also helps us have the stamina to follow through on our goals by lending us trust in the uncertainties that attend the creative process. A lighthearted, flexible attitude gives us more energy as we stress out less over end results. Such an attitude gives access to imagination, inspiration, and new information; and it allows us to acquire the needed skills for success.

Whenever you adopt a creative play mode, it automatically helps open you to new ideas. You're more apt to trust your own capabilities and be resourceful. Your positive expectations will attract support for your goals, whether they're for health, wealth, relationships, career, life transitions, spiritual self-realization-or just having more fun in your life. How wonderful to realize that natural play and creative genius-and The Good Life-are all friends.

AFFIRMATION: I use my native creative genius easily to design a joyful and playful life now.

CREATIVE BLOCK ART PROJECT. Creative "block" is another name for a creativity imbalance. You may be experiencing too few ideas or inspirations, a feeling of nada happening. Or, the opposite: You have too many creative ideas and possibilities, an inundation that leaves you unable to choose, or choosing so many options that you are exhausted trying to keep up. Making a Creative Block doll or figurine is an excellent way to get a FUNdamental grip on what your particular imbalance is all about. You may use most anything on hand to create the figure: a discarded doll or even a block of wood, which serves well for the body. Go through your house or yard, selecting items that speak to you. It isn't necessary to know in advance what they will represent-or even if you will end up using all of them.

Use a very strong, tacky glue to affix your found objects. As you do, let your imagination go. Allow your instinct and intuition to reign. (See "Wild Anatomy.") Be mindful, gently observing your thoughts and responses as a playful meditation on "my creative block" (or other name more to your liking). You can paint, sew things on, whatever you like. Collaging right on your figurine is also cool to do, using cut out pictures or words from magazines or newspapers, pasting images on your doll. (You can also just draw a doll if you don't want to make one and proceed with the rest of the process on paper.)

When done, dialogue with your creation, the living representative of your block. Ask, "Who are you; what exactly are you like? How do you operate in my life? What is your job and how do you keep me from completing my projects, or from feeling creative? How do you get me to listen to you, or do what you say? How do you control my mind, the flow of ideas? Why are you doing this for me?"

Thank your creative imagination and inner guidance for whatever you get. Expect to find that your block is actually trying to help you in some way, which is an important key to understanding the blocking, especially if it is a pattern in your life.

Fig. 1. Photograph of the author's Creative Block doll. Note the confusing and over-stimulating array of ideas popping out of her head: the pack of nails to help her "nail" one of them; the ticket-or solution-hidden out of reach on her backside; and, finally, the hand sticking out asking for help-a final "afterthought" item glued on once the possibility for assistance was recognized.

My major breakthrough with my dolly was to discover that "block" could be understood

as one pole of "imbalance." In my particular case, it has always been from overflow-a kind of creative diarrhea-as opposed to the constipation of flow that creative block is named for.


"Humor is our greatest national resource." - James Thurber

How do you spell relief? H-U-M-O-R, nature's own best remedy for the blues, the blahs, and anything else that gets you down. Healthy humor (not the kind that intends harm) is a lighthearted, playful perspective on a situation, a vantage point that lets us breathe. Natural play can tickle funny bones quite, um, naturally, dissolving tensions instantly. And it's free.

Humor is anathema to our fears, to our beliefs that life is unsafe and unwelcoming of us. For that reason alone, seeing the funny or silly side of hardship-even a life-threatening illness-opens up the possibility for hope and healing to intercede. The word disease comes apart easily into dis-ease-a serious, grim lack of ease and certainly the absence of play. Inviting playfulness in to transform dis-ease brings to mind two men who have proved the power of humor and its sidekick laughter in the healing process: Norman Cousins and Dr. "Patch" Adams.

I found details about Cousins in a book written by my humor expert friend Terry Braverman (When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Lighten Up: How To Be Happy in Spite of It Al). Cousins was perhaps the person best known for bringing to mainstream attention the power of humor to heal. A UCLA professor and former editor of The Saturday Review, Cousins cured himself of a so-called incurable collagen disease. Given only six months to live, Cousins determined that he would die laughing, requesting that his visitors bring "funny books, tapes, cartoons, gag gifts, and anything else that might provoke laughter." His disease went into remission after just a few weeks of self-prescribed laughing therapy, added onto his other medical treatments. He managed to live another 15 years, receiving a humanitarian award for his works shortly before his death.

Equally inspiring is the evolving tale of physician Patch Adams, made public via the 1998 box office film, Patch, starring Robin Williams. At first severely criticized during his medical school years for his penchant for wearing a red clown's nose during patient visits, and finding other seemingly outlandish ways to brighten and lighten the load of his patients, Patch went on to make medical history. Graduating in 1971 and determined to revolutionize the way medicine is understood and practiced, he founded the Gesundheit Institute, which ran as a free community clinic for 12 years. The center was funded by private donations, proceeds from Adams' books (Gesundheit! and House Calls), and "The Wellness Show," a traveling production in which Adams plays a 19th century snake oil salesman selling nutrition, exercise, wonder, friendship, and love.

Today, Patch and his cohorts are building a hospital and health care center on a 320-acre farm in Virginia. His dream is a model for a "happy hospital," continuing his practice of charging no money, carrying no malpractice insurance, no third party reimbursements, and integrating all the healing arts, including performing arts, crafts, farming, nature, friends, and "fun." He remains a dedicated clown doctor, spreading humor and laughter wherever he goes.

Also a fan of wearing red clown noses is Terry Braverman, a West Coast "recovering stand-up comedian." In his lectures to health care professionals, Terry emphasizes the relationship between humor and health. East Coast play expert Cathy Raphael (itsourturntoplay.com) agrees. Both cite scientific evidence for the power of a humorous take on things to benefit physical, emotional, and psychological healing. Laughter releases endorphins, "like chocolate and exercise," says Raphael. Braverman tells us that laughter increases blood circulation, aids digestion and elimination, and "amplifies respiration." In fact, "a good belly laugh can elevate oxygen intake. . . fivefold," he says.

Laughing also boosts our immune systems, according to the new science of psychoneuroimmunology. Energy Times magazine (May 2003) reports that "mirthful" laughter that's not "sarcastic or bitter" can "increase NK cell activity, raise the number of other immune cells called T-cells, and lower output of cortisol," a hormone released during stress. Braverman, Raphael, and Energy Times also reiterate the power of humor and laughing (endemic to play) as a stress and burnout antidote; as a bonding element for human connection, communication, and teamwork; and as a lube for creative wheels.

In a similar vein, Diane Loomans, co-author of The Laughing Classroom: Everyone's Guide to Teaching with Humor and Play (H.J.Kramer, 1993), offers "The High Fives of Humor." Included on her list are various physical and social benefits for players in learning situations.

Humor and laughter are part of the joyful side of life. They make learning fun and healing and connection more likely for everyone who embraces the Tao of "en-lightening-up."

AFFIRMATION: Today I prevent disasters by not taking them seriously. I breathe into the present moment, meeting each challenge with a lighter heart, willing to find deLight along de way.

DE-LIGHTENING UP Game (AKA "The Toon Up"). What are you dead serious about? What can't you find any humor in? Your job? Your son's marriage? A friend's physical pain? The lack of peace in the world? Today you can elect to be a Norman Cousins or Patch Adams-an ambassador of delight and self-styled alchemist of positive changes. Begin by proclaiming today, "Humor Day." Create laughter in your life and spread it around.

Read the funny papers, use the library or bookstore to find jokes or cartoons, or check out comedy videos-the more outrageous the better. Loosen up. Stand in front of a mirror and make ridiculous faces at yourself; then, find a kid and play "Mirror," taking turns making and mirroring funny faces. Feel how good it feels to stretch your face and smile muscles. Try out a dumb riddle or "knock-knock" joke on a grumpy cashier, even if you get a groan in return (or less).

Practice until all the animosity leaves you and you really start to feel better, even good. Now take a look at that situation to which you brought only anger, heartache, or "poor me." Breathe into the Bigger Picture and take a snapshot. Got it? Can you see a ray of light there where there seemed to be none before? Feel how compassion, even creativity, can flow? Find some kind of gift in the situation. Yes. You are now "deLightening up." Continue to practice every day until perfected. Catch a heartfelt humor condition and infect everybody you can: at home, at work, at the supermarket-in the mirror.

Treat yourself to a "toon up" on a regular basis. We'll all be so glad you did.


"And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair." - Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Years ago I was called to a medicine woman or "shamanic" path. It began with an invitation to create a work of art that was to be entitled, "Animal Nature." A mask affixed to a shield emerged over a 3-month period, along with a new lover who shared my penchant for long hikes in meadows and forests, and looking for bones and feathers along creek beds. Over the ensuing months, the concept of wild anatomy came to me, along with the idea of an "Iron Jane" consort to Robert Bly's much-celebrated Iron John, an instinctual, primal male archetype in need of reintegration in over-civilized, self-distrusting modern man. I began my own reintegration of my "wildish" self with the help of author mentor Clarissa Pinkola Estes (Women Who Run With the Wolves), and the notion that my body, my mind, and my heartspace could be rededicated to wilderness. My native, natural, unadulterated, innocent, ever creative, sensual, sexy, harmless, curious, self-protective, and eminently playful self was being reborn.

I've delineated three facets of the wild anatomy, all equally important to freeing your passion and play potential. Each facet is discussed below, with its own affirmation and exercise to help you recognize and develop it.

MIND PLAY: Wild Mind

In order to play fully and freely, our minds must be open, imagination free to roam, thoughts uncensored. We can learn to dare to trust the vastness of our mental body, whatever images appear, whatever thoughts enter, whatever the voices in our heads may say. Our minds can play with concepts, systems of beliefs, patterns of behavior, or engage in rapt attention for hours with the unlimited opportunities of imaginary people, places, or things. Mind play, with awareness, is sublime meditation.

AFFIRMATION: I am free and safe to enjoy all my thoughts, entertain all my imaginings.

FIVE UNCENSORED MINUTES EXERCISE. Pick a time that is unhurried and a space that feels really comfortable and safe for you. While the exercise itself is quite simple, it deserves room to be enjoyed, or to simply allow for it to unfold fully. You can set an alarm or timer if you like, allowing a minimum of 5 minutes to just be with your thought process. It is akin to the meditation exercise of just being, watching your thoughts, much like clouds passing through a calm sky. You observe, you notice, you feel without judging or attaching to a particular thought or result, as best you can.

If you are in a good mood at the time you choose to do this exercise, it may be relatively easy for you to let your mind go, to be spontaneous with your thoughts, and perhaps really enjoy the experience. However, if you have suffered loss or trauma recently or have been repressing uncomfortable thoughts for a while, this exercise may seem a bit scary. You can choose to have a guide or helper with you. With painful experiences, we often go underground, burying our fearful thought processes and associated feelings. In either case, allow plenty of time after the exercise to process or integrate the experience, or just to be with it. Depending on your mood, your level of experience with mindful meditation, and how deeply you go with explorations into the interior of the self, this might be 10 to 30 minutes.

BODY PLAY: Wild Body

Play requests of us and offers us a chance to accept our physical bodies, whatever shape they're in, whatever age or color. While some degree of self-consciousness or self-criticism is common in our society, we can learn to have humor and be willing to become more generous. The friendly acceptance that one playmate gives to another can improve body image and raise self-esteem.

If we are fortunate enough to be healthy, our playing bodies are flexible and naturally strong. But even those players with physical handicaps can be terrific playmates, attuned to nuances and subtleties of sensation, rhythm, energy. Whatever shape our bodies are in, they are apt instruments to house a spirit bright with the delight of playtime.

AFFIRMATION: I love to play with my body. I love the body I play in. I love the instrument that allows me to experience playing.

FLOOR DANCING EXERCISE. A remake of a trance inducing exercise taught me by a Korean mudang (shaman), floor dancing can allow you to accomplish four different but related things: give your physical body a healthful stretch, find out what body parts need your kind attention, help you breathe more easily and fully, and allow you to experience thoughts and feelings that match your physical states and movements. Allow a minimum of 15 uninterrupted minutes for this exercise, gradually increasing the time. Try not to rush, since hurrying tends to make us lose focus and the awareness of our process.

Lie down on the floor-on a carpet or mat is usually best. Be sure your spine is fully supported. You may floor dance in silence or with music that induces quiet relaxation. Choose music that helps you focus all your attention on your body and senses, music that keeps you out of your head.

Very slowly, move your body to the music, so slowly that it is like moving one body part or area at a time. Be as fluid and smooth as you can, allowing pauses or lulls if they come organically. Listen with your felt sense-ability. Enjoy the feeling of total support from the ground, letting all your muscles relax, your bones relax, your insides relax. Notice places that may be tight or sore or otherwise uncomfortable. Notice where you are flexible, where it feels good to inhabit your skin. Be non-judgmental. Cultivate "wild mind" as you allow any thoughts just to be part of the experience.

If you like, allow sounds to come out, natural sounds that match the movements, the way your body feels. Notice how doing this increases pleasure, relief, or your ability to relax.

HEART PLAY: Wild Heart

Having a "wild heart" is essential to play. When the heart comes into play, we express ourselves with abandon, freely giving room to others to be themselves, too. We are also receptive, accepting gladly the goodwill returned to us. Players whose hearts are open may enjoy an immediate friendship.

The play induced by a free heart is easily creative, inspired and inspiring, and naturally close-intimate. Trusting hearts are more open to feelings and to sharing real moments in each other's company. They are the glue for our sense of belonging. At their core, our wild hearts relish a richness of experience, at once sacred and worldly, spiritual and earthy, deep and vast. As we follow the road of the Tao of play, increasing our trust of allowing the play of our moments to unfold, so do our hearts open and blessings come.

Not only can it be argued that freeing our loving hearts is the antidote to whatever ails us in spirit, research is showing the heart to be a secret key to wellness. Scientists and educators at The Institute of HeartMath (www.heartmath.org)-a research and educational organization-show neuro-cardiological evidence for a "heart brain" with its own intelligence. They advance a theory of "the appreciative heart" and are developing a "psycho-physiology of positive emotions and optimal functioning." Happy hearts are healthier hearts in more optimally functioning bodies, and they contribute to choices that lead us to more balanced, quality lives.

The wild, soulful heart expresses itself with passion, with compassion, with kindness, creative spark, and authenticity. Both our interior and exterior worlds of relationship are in the domain of heart play. Our most rewarding relationships-both inner and outer-are open-hearted, "wildish" ones. Keeping them open is key to keeping us coming back for more.

AFFIRMATION: In this moment, I can freely give and accept all the love, joy, and healing that I want and need. My heart is a holy place and my feelings are a beautiful part of my being.

HEART-BREATHING EXERCISE. Do this exercise by yourself, or with a trusted other. For best results, allow 20 or 30 minutes of uninterrupted time, and choose a place that is tranquil or otherwise allows you to concentrate on your breath and how it affects your sense of heartfelt caring and your sense of overall peace or well-being. As you become facile at Heart Breathing, you can do it anywhere, anytime, and immediately enjoy benefits of less stress, fatigue, or restlessness, and more healthy self-awareness.

Begin by feeling the support of a chair, floor, or bed under you, supporting you completely. Feel your muscles begin to relax naturally as you follow your breath with your awareness. Feel the air moving in and out through your nose (or mouth), and find the place or space of just "being." Let your eyes close naturally when ready.

Place a hand (or both hands) gently over your heart, feeling the rise and fall of your breath. Let your attention fully come into your heart, perhaps dropping your focus to the upper part of your chest. Feel your physical heart beating. Allow feelings and emotions to be present as they arise, if they do.

If you are with a partner, be seated directly across from each other. Agree on a signal to open your eyes together, gently taking each other in as part of the whole experience of your conscious breathing. Gradually extend this experience from an initial 5 minutes or so to longer periods. It is common to feel a range of emotional states, as if you are riding a sea of possibilities. You may experience floating in a calm sea, sensing how vast your being is. Or you may experience tears, laughter, wonder, or even fear; any of these may arise in the simple but profound experience of breathing together.

Variation: With a special someone, lay together cuddling in a "spoon" position. If either of you is ruffled or upset, let that one lay on the inside, back covered. (Take turns, if you wish.) Breathe, finding a common rhythm. Experience yourselves each alone, yet together in a dance of relationship. Experience the paradox of being two breaths, now one breath, then two again.

If one of you is on the outside of the spoon, first pace yourself to the inside partner's breath. Then lead them to follow you, especially if you are the more relaxed or calm of the pair. Pace the stressed partner into a more relaxed and assuring breathing pattern.

Enjoy the playful innocence and kindness of this exercise. Let it be a joyful or healing experience for you both.


"Conscious recovery of the playful child within is both a means and a joyful end to the journey." - Marcia Singer

When was the last time you played? You know, did something enjoyable with your whole heart and soul, got so involved that you forgot what time it was, just had fun? If you are like most people, it's probably been way too long. And if you suffer from addiction, you'll have especial trouble trusting spontaneity, an essential component of natural play. Yet the powerful connections among losing our facility for playing, finding our authentic selves, and recovering "joyfulfillment" have barely been explored.

We live in a society of stressed out, deadly serious people, habitually attempting escape from registering life's heartache, pain, and shadows. Addiction is the name we give to any obsessive or compulsive behavior that allows us to avoid disquieting thoughts or feelings on a regular basis, as well as to our particular anesthesia or distractions of choice. The Recovery Movement in the United States is an enormous grassroots effort to heal the shame and debilitation associated with addictive lifestyles and to restore people to healthier, happier lives. Happy people are naturally playful, indulging in childlike, unadulterated, free-hearted self- expression that helps keep us fit in every way-physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, and spiritually. Remembering how to play is a context in which to remember who we Are.

I have found over the past 10 years as a therapist who works with healing addictions, and as a woman who has suffered from her own, that the skills, connections, and insights offered in play retraining offer a powerful, natural means to heal. My own discoveries came out of a branch of recovery called Inner Child Work. This process focuses on uncovering within the adult a vulnerable childlike self that has been unconsciously hidden or pushed away for protection. Unfortunately, these attempts to protect and control also interfere with joy, trust, spontaneity, creative breadth or depth, vital energy, and intimacy with others. These qualities of the "free" or "divine" child are also qualities of authentic play itself. And yet the utilization of play as a tool specifically for rehabilitation and for soulful restoration in therapy programs has yet to be explored.

The idea that play can be our "13th Step" in recovery is an exciting one. Now we can imagine ourselves "playing through" our fears with courage and heart until we are free enough at last to engage the world as Friend. Everything that has been interfering with our aliveness and confidence in our own inherent value will arise in play recovery-the same stuff associated with any addictive or compulsive pattern we've been running.

The process of recovering play shows that distrust deeply underlies addictions. Whatever deep hurt, shame, or anxiety we experienced as children that took root in us as an expectation to distrust life, ourselves, and others, also keeps us from playing because true play requires a free, trusting heart. Envisioning ourselves as players underneath it all gives a wonderful, compassionate twist to the work of soulful recovery.

Our 13th Step program begins with admitting we are in need of healing, and proceeds with a compassionate, in-depth examination of our hidden inner needs and current outer actions. We may discover our innate connection to a Higher Power by "playing through" the fears we encounter along the way with courage and increasing faith in positive outcomes. Finally we are "in play" with Life itself, with Spirit, and the joyous possibilities of living a soulful, fulfilling life.

The Recovery Movement embraces hundreds of thousands of men, women, and young people learning to value themselves, empower their dreams, and change unwanted behavior. Changes may involve habits relating to health, relationships, sexuality, work, sense of purpose, worthiness, or recreation styles. Whether it's the abuse of drugs, an eating disorder, unhealthy sexual or co-dependent relations, anger displays, pack rat syndrome, smoking, or compulsive neatness, recovering our right to free-hearted, innocent self-expression has an immediate positive effect on dissolving the anxious distrust beneath the addictive patterns.

Some of the most wonderful playmates and actively spiritual people I know are former addicts. We understand that addictions and compulsions are unconscious, often desperate, attempts to "fix" a lingering, shadowy sense of impending doom-a sense of disconnect with what is good and meaningful and promising in being alive. Remembering how to engage as Friend and how to live with an open heart and mind contains the practical and spiritual fodder needed for the journey of recovery.

Whatever the addiction, there is a "13th Step" possibility: Play mode. Playing can be both a means and an end to resuscitating the ageless child within us and to assuaging the longing for the uplift of creative spirit and the longing to belong.

Step out of identifying with being a defective, disconnected human being. One day at a time, become a player for life, on behalf of life, for the rest of your life. Although we may live in an addiction-based society, as each of us recovers the art of true play, we may mentor others around us in the joy of being alive again.

AFFIRMATION: I put my whole self back into play and with faith and courage open to recovering the joy of being unflinchingly, overwhelmingly alive.

GETTING THE BALL ROLLING" GAME. This game allows the imagination of each participant to come quickly into play in a non-threatening, non-pressured manner, while simultaneously generating subject matter for later discussion or artwork. It may be played with only two persons, or as many as are gathered. If you can, sit in a circle for easy access to each other, and a sense of everyone being equally welcome. You'll need a ball (a bean bag, small pillow, or even a balloon can work). Choose something easy to toss and easy to catch so the focus is on the verbal and emotional expression, not on trying to catch the object.

A designated leader (facilitator, therapist, or other) begins by announcing that we're going to toss a ball around, one person at a time. Whoever has the ball expresses spontaneously in a word or two a thought that comes to mind around the topic chosen. Any relevant topic will do, such as "what being free of my addiction would mean " or what the word "play" conjures up. After saying your thought, the ball is tossed back to the leader, who throws it to another. The toss can go around once to every player or however many times are needed to air ideas and let enough feelings come into play.

If you wish, experiment by letting the players choose who they want to pass the ball to, in any order. Be sure everyone gets to play. Learn which ways yield the most material for discussion later or for an art project. Discover how a group mind (or heart) forms, covering the field of possibilities about the subject, bringing them up for examination, or for just being silent with the fact or sense of it. A ball toss can also be used to end a meeting or to generate ideas for any brainstorming session.


"Nana I Ke Kumu. I look to the Source." - Yvonne Mokihana Calizar (Our Turn, Our Time)

As children, the free, exploratory expression of play is our first, most primary, and happiest way of learning about ourselves and our world. If we're fortunate, we spend our later years as well, freely and creatively engaged in the play of our moments. And as older adults we add the possibility of being able to do so with awareness, bringing wisdom to our experience.

Throughout life, playing is to creative living as breath is to life: Without it, we cannot thrive. In the second half of life, we especially need to play in order to "re-create" ourselves. In midlife "crisis" and beyond, life asks us to discover what really matters and to let the rest go. What has mattered to us in the past, what we have invested in up to now, is evident in the results we've gotten. "What is worth keeping, and what is not?" we may feel prompted to ask. The second half of life is naturally the time for reassessments, separating the nourishing wheat from chaff, making restitution if needed. As we sift through our experiences, we separate out the vital and meaningful from what is outmoded or false. We reexamine what was appropriate for our youth and what tasks life now asks of us. We try to discern what will matter for the rest of our time on earth, to determine our final investments. For whatever time remains, we'll breathe into the losses that descend on us and the renewals that arise and beckon. We let go as best we can and receive and embrace all we can.

As a steward of our need for play in the second half of our lives, I can personally attest to the power of playing our way into and through the inevitable changes that this time frame will bring. We'll experiences bodily changes, changes in how we work and exercise, eat and make love. We'll experience emotional losses, perhaps related to our closest relationships, home life, finances, health care, and mobility. Many of us will face spiritual quandaries, questioning our relationship to our Maker. And some of us will be well enough and wise enough to do so with heart, humor, and goodwill: We'll go through midlife and aging as Players.

The instinct for play is always within us, every ready to be turned on. When it connects with consciousness, with the sense of what's enlivening and worthwhile, we can paradoxically make time fly, or make it stand still, blessing us with a glimpse of paradise and what is eternal and unchanging.

Remember Connie and Benny from my "Creative Living" class? Some of the most unexpected, no-holds-barred play I have engaged in during the past two years has been with seniors between the ages of 70 and 90. Often during my classes and performances in the senior living communities that I service, there is a quality of abandon- a "what-have-we-got-to-lose attitude"- that astonishes me sometimes, be it clever gaming or "chair dancing" with invalids whose eyes are afire with willingness. There are unanticipated nose-to-nose rubs and kisses blown with joy; smart ass jokes that cut to the chase; shrieks and whoops of laughter; and quiet, almost imperceptible, flickers of play dancing in the eyes of stroke survivors who cannot utter a sound. My play with these people is so deep sometimes that I leave wondering who helped whom.

I can still remember my first aging playmate. My mother's father, "Bumpa," in his 70s was a gentle tease who liked to grab his granddaughter's funny bone and not stop until I shrieked, "Pleeeaase!" At our backyard swimming pool, Grandpa Bumpa would put an ice cube down your back to "cool you off" in the hot, humid Kansas summers, a signal for everybody to jump in.

A more recent playmate was my first aging mentor, Leon M. Leon, a world-class magician (as was his father who bore the same name). "Leon Leon" was a genius with props. (In fact, he invented the clapboard of "Take One, Take Two" fame). I met the elderly gent in 1985 and had the pleasure of his company for nearly 10 years. I visited him often. Leon whistled around the house, cheerful as a jaybird, even in his 90s after a bad fall. When I began teaching comedic improv, Leon loaned me the use of his small theater that doubled as a garage. It had a stage and was roomy enough for theater games or seating an audience of 20. Leon loved to shoot videos, recording all my classes, and interviewing me impromptu on a variety of subjects. We laughed together, cried over losses (his wife of 60 years had just died when we met), went out for Mexican food, and shared a mutual love for performance art. I visited his free workshops on magic props design, sharing the novelty, fellowship, and jokes. Playful, caring, always whistling, grateful for each day he was granted to be living, Leon was an engaging, playful mentor who lives on in me as I grow older, inspiring me to live each day as fully as I dare.

Just as we come into this life as a player, we may go out as one. Through our midlife transitions, into our final ones, we have the chance to discover the heart of play in living itself. The possibility is there to grow in awareness as we age, to bear witness to life unfolding, to give and receive its gifts with gratitude and wisdom. If we age and sage well, we have and express a lightness of being that can make us hugely playful and endearing to be around.

A gift of elderhood surely is the ability to play with anyone, at any time, anywhere, for the sheer love of being alive. As we grow wise, we remember our Source, our Connection to all Life. Why not?

AFFIRMATION: As I age, I engage in the most wondrous play ever, for I have the spontaneity and abandon of my childhood adorned with the wisdom of awareness of the preciousness of Life.

NAMING WRINKLES Game. Stand in front of a mirror and look at the wrinkles on your face. Select one, and give it a name, such as, "Weeny" or "Crinkles" or "Garth." Notice its shape, size, any identifying traits. Imagine the experience you gained in life that went into etching that line. Note how it gives you character, beauty. Repeat. Share the game with a friend. Name each other's wrinkles. (Variation: Name scars, sags, and so forth.) Share the stories of your lives. Notice the kind of special connections it forges- with your own life experience, with your body, with the experience and body character of others who play willingly with you.