As a child I loved to play, and I still do. I’m never so happy as when I’m playing with my children. When we play together, we let go of many of the rules that pretend to define us and shape us, and leave us free to explore.
When adults use the word play, they usually mean games with set rules (cards, sports), or relaxing and getting away from their everyday routine.
When children play, it’s not only to relax and have fun. They pretend that they’re someone else in another place. They do it to learn about life. They do it to explore an endless sea of possibilities.
Children love to let go of the rules that we impose on them. And they find such pleasure in it. And adults love to let go of the rules too, at least for a few moments.
But I think that the great pleasure that we naturally find in breaking free of the rules is not simply to abandon all rules.
It’s to gain the flexibility to pretend that we’re in a world with a different shape, and with different rules.
So we can learn and change and grow.
Most adults think they’re just too busy with other more important, serious activities to pretend.
Are we too busy to learn, to grow, to become more than we are?
Children are the greatest learners in the world, and they live for play.
Play, like imagination, is about stretching our boundaries and trying on another shape.
Go. Try on a new reality like a suit of clothes. Experience a different personality, a different set of rules about life, and another way of being.
Live in another reality for a moment, and learn. If you find something wonderful, then start on a path to make part of that reality “real”.
In every mythology there are legends of shape shifters. These are beings whose form and personality is not completely fixed like ours. Sometimes, as with a werewolf, the ability is restricted to transforming between a single type of animal and a human shape. Occasionally there are stories of a shape shifter that can take any shape: human, animal, plant, stone – anything that she can imagine.
But there’s an even more profound type of shape shifting which is open to all of us.
You can take on a different personality, a different set of skills, a different reality.
Wait, that’s impossible, isn’t it? Could I be anyone else than who I am?
How different would you be if you had been raised within a dramatically different belief system? If you had parents who were hateful instead of loving, or the opposite.
Our personalities are much more fluid than we think.
It’s an unsettling thought to imagine that you could be someone else.
Maybe I could have been someone else, but I’m here now with my history that helped bring me to the shape that’s so familiar to me. That’s comforting, isn’t it? And anything else is just a dream, isn’t it?
Sorry, but your ability to be different is not limited to a different past. You can be different now and in the future.
You’re somewhat like a computer that can load a wide variety of games or programs, You’re a reality simulator. You can plug in a pretend personality and see what you can learn from it.
There’s a whole world of possibility hidden away inside of us. When we pretend to be different people, we often discover skills and a way of looking at the world that we didn’t know we had, and we give birth to powerful insights that seem to come from someone else.
In Win Wenger’s book, The Einstein Factor, there are a number of wonderful techniques that let you try on different situations to find solutions to problems, or simply generate creative ideas.
We seem to have an incredible capacity to create personalities and learn from them. But is it safe? Do I run the risk of going mad?
There are people who have significant mental illness, whose personalities are unstable, and should stay far away from this kind of play.
Multiple personality disorder, for example, is a frightening condition where people have powerful independent personalities that fight for control of the body, commonly in destructive ways.
That’s not where you’ll end up by playing, if you start out healthy.
In some ancient cultures, there were individuals who were described as having several healthy personalities within them that worked together. Such people were sought out as leaders and healers.
Were they insane? I don’t think so.
They were able to plug in different personalities, adopt significantly different ways of looking at the world, and they brought these insights back to everyday reality.
I’ve read that some people believe that multiple personalities may represent real spirits that have connected with us. Similarly, there are some people whose personalities undergo a radical change at some time in their life, and claim that a new spirit has taken up residence.
I don’t believe that these other personalities must represent other “spirits”.
We have an incredible capacity for simulating and exploring alternate realities.
In some ways, I think that our ability to simulate different personalities and realities is what defines us. We are personality and reality shape shifters.
It is a toy, in the sense that a supercomputer can be used as a toy.
Alternatively, we can use our imagination to create the most extraordinary simulations, learn from them, and to a certain extent, bring them into being.
There’s a fascinating book from Silvia Hartmann called Project Sanctuary. It shows you how to use your imagination to build worlds in your mind that change and grow as you return to them, again and again.
Not simply to relax and enjoy yourself.
Not to escape from problems and difficulties that you can’t face.
You go there to learn.
You build worlds that allow you to tap into your unconscious mind and expose creative and problem-solving abilities that you never suspected that you had.
What will you find there?
It depends on how willing you are to suspend your current shape, and try on other possibilities.
Maybe you’ll find your true self, who is only pretending to be you.
Only you can find out.