Today I want to write about an overlooked, but crucial tool on the journey of healing – play. I learned about play from my mentor in developmental psychology, Dr. Gordon Neufeld, and Hand in Hand Parenting.
Play brings to mind many things – delight, joy, physical movement, creativity, silliness and laughter. Yes, it is all those blessed things, and more.
In a healing context, play is using movement, creativity, joy, and expression to move the energy that is stored underneath overeating and binge eating.
Play helps you in a few, key tangible ways:
- It reduces the load on the limbic system, calming the emotional brain and connecting you with your higher brain. This makes it easier to think, manage impulses and emotions, and pause in the face of a craving.
- It reconnects you with joy, celebration, and delight – so important in any long term challenge or struggle
- It nourishes resilience and growth, the new life you long for, that sense of “I can”
- And play moves you out of the painful energy of collapse, despair and powerlessness that can arise with trauma or any long term struggle
Why we work instead of play
Play is so powerful, crucial for the healing journey, and often feels really good – yet it’s easy to overlook, because of its simplicity.
Most of us tend to work at healing – working on ourselves, our stuff, our development, our obligations. Most of us know how to work, and how to work hard, particularly those of us in Western cultures.
And when we’re caught in fight or flight – when we’re under stress, feel scared or threatened, or feel overwhelmed – all feelings that can arise with overeating – we tend to fall back on our typical habits, do what we’re already good at, or what we already know.
So we work!
It’s counterintuitive, but what’s often needed in the face of overwhelm is not more work, nor more of what we’re already competent at, but to turn towards those things that are more tender and young within us, those things that feel simple or small or less important.
I’m reminded of so many spiritual traditions that invite us to ‘be like a child,’ to come, play and rest.
Using play to support healing from trauma
The last benefit of play – moving out of collapse and despair – is crucial if you have a history of trauma. I have a trauma history myself, and understand and empathize with its pain.
One of the most painful and frustrating aspects of trauma is how disorienting it can feel when it takes over the mind, body, and nervous system.
When this happens, we can collapse into a sense of powerlessness – a feeling that we can never change, life can never change, and that new life and healing is impossible.
We can fuse with the feelings of trauma and believe they are us, rather than a reflection of something that happened to us.
I remember how one healer put it to me: all emotional pain comes from a feeling of powerlessness.
Play is a powerful way to move through this energy of collapse, to move the emotions, and to healthfully separate out from the trauma (where you no longer identify the trauma or trauma response as ‘you’) – and in a way that feels safe, deeply respectful and inviting to the tenderness and vulnerability that lies under our traumatized parts.
Respecting the fierce, tender soul
In my experience, a playful approach feels much more supportive, collaborative, and respectful than a ‘beat down our defenses’ or confrontational approach to healing. We make room for all of ourselves, and all of our parts.
Through play, through compassion, through tender holding, we come to re-embody ‘the deeper story’ that lives underneath the surface stories we tell about ourselves – the story viewed through the eyes of wholeness, and Love.
The Book of Love – reconnecting with your deeper story
It’s something to wonder about, this idea of play. You might ask yourself – what if I brought more play into the journey? What if I worked less on myself? What might that feel or look like?
If you’re wanting group support and a structured way to bring play into your relationship with food, loss and grief, depression, or any long term challenge, you might like my upcoming course, The Book of Love.
The Book of Love is different than other courses I’ve offered as it’s intentionally designed to be playful, experiential, and to gently support the healing process. (You can read about my experience in creating a book of love here.)
The 5 areas of separation and reconnection
In this course, you’ll be making your own personalized book of healing – a collage or scrapbook of meaning that is personal to you. I have stories, poems, and images to share – and you’ll also be finding your own, what makes your heart sing.
You’ll explore and play with the five main areas where we experience separation and stuckness in the wake of grief, loss, food compulsions, depression, or other life challenges:
- connection to our hearts and to those parts that have been outcast
- connection with others – with the greater community and the greater world
- connection to grief, to those places that have known loss
- connection to our gifts, dreams and longings
- and connection to beauty, joy and celebration
Approaching these tender things in a spirit of play – one step removed – often brings insights and emergence that may be hidden if we’re working on ourselves. It is a mystery what gives the soul the safety to arise, and speak.
Learn more about The Book of Love
If this interests you, you can learn more about the course details and watch a helpful video here.
There’s a mysterious alchemy that arises whenever the heart takes the leap and commits to something it feels called to. Something begins to take seed, and to grow. I’ve found this to be true in many of my healing journeys.
In that spirit, may your heart lead you to the many ways that play, and tenderness, and refuge are calling to you, and to your embodied humanity.