Play versus Diversion
Play in this sense is more than just something enjoyable, although enjoyment is necessary. Play is a way to get out of the past and future and into the present. Play overcomes the physical and psychological feeling of 'having no options.' Play is an end to itself. However in this discussion of living with purpose and feeling, play is being recommended as a means to an end also. It will be necessary to just hold that paradox, it cannot be resolved. Play has the following elements:
- Play exists as an island, that is, it is unrelated to what came before, and is unrelated to what will come after. In this way, it frees the person.
- Play is spontaneous. A time to begin play may be planned, but planning play takes all the 'play' out of it.
- Play is done solely for pleasure or joy.
- Play may involve pretending but not fantasy. That is, play is associative not dissociative. In pretending a person tries to feel a different circumstance and can interact with others on that basis. A person having a fantasy has little real feeling, and does not interact. If others are involved at all in a fantasy, it is as props.
- Time stops. That is, one is not conscious of 'time pressure' and there is no feeling of waiting.
- Rules are loose and do not dominate the play.
- Play has no desired outcome. No one keeps score, or at least no one retains the score outside the 'island' of the play
- Play may be a game but not all games are play. Even an enjoyable game is not play if it is pursued 'seriously' or as a consistent hobby or practice.
- The idea of performance or evaluation does not enter into it.
When the subject of play comes up, a word has to be said about competition. Competition can be play if the elements of play listed above are present, especially the idea of play or competition existing as an island. What gives competition a bad name is 'permanent' competition', such as in a career or business. Constant striving to be the 'best' is an attempt to be lovable by being special. Day and night 'competition' like this is really more like vigilance, and it causes a contraction, unlike the opening up that happens with the 'playing one's heart out' in the moment that competition is meant to be. On a basketball court say, to be competitive is to be very aware of the present environment, but in a career spanning years, to be competitive is to focus on a few things and miss many other things.
Also, those of us who have trouble with healthy aggression have trouble with competition. If there is not a strong sense of self, and if self-nourishment is restricted, competitive situation will lead to withdraw and freezing up. Secondarily to this, there is an ideology against competition which asserts play should be cooperative but not competitive. This comes from a confusion of aggression with violence, and a confusion of playful competition with permanent competition