Wanna Play?

Written by Mandy Mercuri 
February 11, 2024 
Beautiful yellow flowers in a lush garden in victoria.

A question all kids seem to ask when someone new comes on the scene...'Wanna play?"

February was my month for ‘Play’. Silly time, tickle fights, activities that spark pure joy and contentment. What a way to spend a month, huh?

What became immediately clear was how easy it was to become wrapped up in the “I should be doing something else right now…” (A learning carried forward from my single-tasking experiment!) In a bit of serendipitous good timing, I listened to an Imperfects podcast interview with Alone Australia winner, Gina Chick and she gave this pearl of wisdom “Should is the voice of someone else!” …and this helped to soften the ‘shoulds’ …and to listen more closely to my own, authentic voice (and she was saying ‘come on, let’s play!!’)

For me, the concept of play was tied to creativity and nature. I like to express my silly side through expressive forms like dance, drawing, writing and telling stories. As the youngest of five kids growing up in the 80s, playing outdoors was a huge part of my childhood.  Being outdoors, I instantly feel more authentically me. I feel connected and spacious. Nothing like a wide expanse of sky to bring some perspective (and I love the silliness of picturing cloud shapes as animals – even better!)

My recent artist dates

I want to share with you the details of some of my recent some Artists Dates. A group of friends and I are doing a 12-week course called ‘The Artists Way’ based on the best-selling book by Julia Cameron. Every morning, I have been writing three pages of unedited, stream of consciousness scribbles (a critical part of The Artist’s Way program – Julia Cameron calls these Morning Pages) and I have been carving out some scared alone time each week to take myself on an Artist’s Dates to explore my creativity and nurturing my inner artist.

I thought you might enjoy hearing a little about some of them:

The cemetery. A slightly odd choice? There’s always been something about them that has intrigued me. As kids we would have a Boxing Day picnic in the park beside the cemetery where my grandparents are both buried. With my siblings and cousins, we would wander around, reading tombstones and exploring! Another slightly more selfish reason for choosing to visit, I have a scene in my debut novel manuscript that occurs in a cemetery and I wanted to add some texture to my description. So, I explored recreating playing at the cemetery – wandering around at sunset, looking at names, dates, inscriptions. I observed the variety of colours, sounds and smells! Throw some people watching in there as well and it was a very mindful experience.

The bookshop – No photos. I offered myself some unencumbered time browsing in a bookshop. I was certain this was going to nourish my inner artist. I went through the entire fiction section, pulling out books that looked interesting, admiring covers, reading blurbs. In the end, after all that investigating, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, I bought a best seller (and yes, it is number one for a reason – The Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros – finished in a few days!).

Karawarra Native Garden – I have often driven past a sign pointing to this local native garden and nursery. When I went to explore, I had a delightful time getting up close to delicate wildflowers, straining my neck to look into the canopy and listening to all the birds that were enjoying the view. Plants big and small had name tags and I delighted in reading the botanical names and recalling my ecologist studies. I brought a playfulness by imagining myself as a forest sprite, like in a Midsummer’s Nights Dream. I smiled with my forest friends – the feathered and the leaved variety. And, while I was pulling out of the carpark, I spotted a flock of black cockatoos (I’ve always considered them my spirit bird!) and I was able to get up close and say hello!

Watercolour painting. My local library, Millers Homestead, is housed in a historic building and surrounded by lovely cottage gardens. A perfect location for attempting some watercolour painting! I borrowed painting gear from my 12-year-old and quickly realised, it was not as easy as it looks! In the spirit of play, I withheld any judgement and experimented with colour, inspired by the scenery. Do I dare show the products of my time during this Artists Date? No…but I did borrow a ‘how to’ guide from the library while I was there.

Play and Pain – the benefits

Distraction has often been suggested to me as a technique to help manage pain. Research suggests that distraction can be helpful for managing through pain, particularly bad flare ups. Some may argue this doesn’t really align with the idea of mindfulness – feeling into the present moment – if that is a moment of pain, we would normally say don’t ignore it but notice and feel it. So, this is one of those grey areas where things can get a bit blurry.

Feeling into the sensations of pain (as scary as this might seem) can be done in a calm way, reinforcing feelings of safety while exploring the actual sensations with curiosity without judgement or engaging in stories. Inquiring, for example, are the sensations sharp? dull? moving or still? feeling into the edges? This is the basis of somatic tracking, a technique that forms part of Pain Reprocessing Therapy and you can try my short somatic tracking for pain on insight timer. For more information, I highly recommend reading The Way Out by Dr Alan Gordon.

Play for me is often a fun way to move the body. Exercise (no matter how you do it) is known to increase endorphins and can be an active and effective way to reduce pain.  When paired with the outdoors, the benefits can increase. Some research has even shown that simply being close to nature can help to lessen pain intensity.

Play can be fun …and funny. We all love a good belly laugh, right? This has been shown to help with reducing pain and improved wellbeing in some studies.

Should I tell a few jokes to get you started? No? Well, there are plenty of funny memes out there and I know many people living with pain who will collect funny memes to pull out during a flare up. Inspirational pain advocate and author Tara Moss will send out desperate pleas for help to trusted friends ‘Nastiest pain flare. Nastiest. Please send cat memes.’

Want to play? Ideas to help getting started.

Play and distraction bingo – try one, try them all – but having this handy just might mean you can reach for an idea when you need it.

How will you bring a little play into your day?

I'm Mandy Mercuri

I'm here to help. I'm a mindfulness coach that can help you on your own mindfulness journey, to work through the challenges life throws us.
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I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the unceeded lands where I work and live, the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation. I recognise their enduring connection to the lands, waters and culture. There is so much we can learn from them about being present and walking mindfully through Country and life. I pay my respects to Elders past and present. There has been and remains prejudice and ignorance, including my own, yet I look forward to the future where our great nation is strengthened and grounded by Voice, Treaty and Truth.
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