The power of play

Tricksters and clowns can play a role in stress management.

When was the last time you played? Who inspires you to play? Just thinking about playing hopefully brings you feelings of joy and laughter. Playing opens our mind and heart to goodness. In the book “The Act Resilient Method from Trauma to Transformation” by Genie Joseph, Ph.D., it says that play puts the mind in a state of willingness for new possibility, for the unexpected. It is one of the very important strategies for building and sustaining resilience. The first step in building resiliency is giving yourself permission to play. It is the pathway to wellness. 

Every culture has had characters to help foster playfulness and goodness. Often these characters are called fools, clowns and tricksters. These characters ask us if our seriousness is really necessary and appropriate. These “delight-makers” with their comical routines laugh at our ridiculous ways and at the same time, show compassion for our suffering. The trickster, possessing both intelligence and persistence, views life as a game to be played. That tricking and being tricked are inevitable, but the reward for winning is that life may be experienced as an amazing and humorous surprise. The trickster is a comical, mythological character of folklore that appears in many cultures with both animal and human names. The coyote is a familiar trickster in North American Native cultures. The clever monkey in Japanese stories plays a similar role and so too does the sly fox in European folklore.

Patty Wooten RN, in her book “Compassionate Laughter – Jest for Life,” states that fools display a different type of comic effect. They represent a spirit and a perspective that stands apart from the laws of logic and society. She divides fools into two groups, the ‘foolish fool’ and the ‘great fool.’ The foolish fool is clumsy, inept, and unsophisticated. The great fool is wise beyond ordinary understanding. He doesn’t try to fit in with society, but lives by his own rules. The foolish fool gets lost; the great fool is at home everywhere. 

Play and humor are important resiliency tools. Look for the opportunities to laugh at life’s imperfection and mishaps. Ask yourself if your seriousness is necessary and if it is giving you the results you want or need. Make it a point to add playfulness and laughter or at least more smiles into your day and see if your mood or days seem more positive after a month or more of practice.

Michigan State University Extension provides one-time presentations about mindful laughter which is part of a five-session series on mindfulness. You can participate in the series or the one session. Contact your local MSU Extension county office to find a class near you.   

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