Caution: Shape Shifters at Play

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”.

Shape Shifters
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.

The Magic of Imagination
Our play and our imagination are the magic that we use to change shape.  Unfortunately many people think of imagination as a toy, except, perhaps when used by artists.

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.

6 comments to Caution: Shape Shifters at Play

  • Wow. I’ve been posting on this subject matter for a number of weeks – – and your one post has just taken my thinking into a whole new area.

    What are your thoughts on how this is linked to the use of modelling in NLP. Does game playing allow us to creatively explore new potential models in order to better successfully adopt them. So game playing is a great way of accessing ‘what-if’ scenarios?

    I love the idea of people adopting the multiple personalities to improve their creativity and problem solving. Your thoughts on my challenge this week would be hugely appreciated by you and any of your readers:

    Kindest regards


  • […] Joel Gruber writes a great post on how playing games enables you to try out a new ’skin’; to learn a new way of feeling and thinking by dropping your old rules and trying out some new rules for the game you’re about to play. I immediately started thinking about the use of modelling in NLP and how game playing allows us to creatively explore new potential models. So game playing as a great way of accessing ‘what-if’. […]

  • […] spoken before (in Caution: Shape Shifters at Play and Why are we afraid to Play? ) about the power of play that enables us to try out other ways of […]

  • Very interesting viewpoint on shape shifters, but I like the reframing. I choose to believe that everyone can change and you can be who you want to today. It may not be easy, but you can do it. Gather you resources and start living.


  • Stephen Stroud

    I’m so excited to finally find something pertaining to this subject. A few years ago I had an intense experience and ever since then, I’ve been able to switch personalities just like you’re saying. I’ve gotten better at it with time, and have found that there are 8 base personalities and several different variations of each. They dictate how you look, think, and act. It’s hard to explain them individually, it’s more so a relative comparison that is understood through experience. They all feel unique and come with their own set of skills. Half the time I shift on my own accord, but the other half is out of my control and happens because of some external spark either positive or negative. But thank you for making this post, it lets me know that other people can actually understand what I’m talking about.

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