James, thank you so much for your evocative post!
First, I love your description of Tony Bennett and Lady GaGa – it was a genuinely moving performance and interaction, and you’ve cast it in a light I hadn’t thought of. Beautiful.
To your question about play and healing – three ideas are emerging for me.
First, I am really intrigued with all of the ways that ‘play’ emerges in our thinking and language – as you say, artists play – and I love that musicians play instruments. And beyond our sense of ‘being playful’ – I think the image of play as movement – you leave some ‘play’ in things so they can function properly – like a wheel, for example. It’s leaving a bit of freedom – if it’s locked down too tight, it won’t turn.
Second, glimpses of the layers of play in the word’s etymology:
Middle English pleien, from Old English plegan, plegian “move lightly and quickly, occupy or busy oneself, amuse oneself; engage in active exercise; frolic; engage in children’s play; make sport of, mock; perform music,” from Proto-West Germanic *plegōjanan “occupy oneself about” (source also of Old Saxon plegan “vouch for, take charge of,” Old Frisian plega “tend to,” Middle Dutch pleyen “to rejoice, be glad,” German pflegen “take care of, cultivate”)
So much there! I’d love to hear what pops out for you in these various roots, and how they dance with each other.
And third: some of David Miller’s thoughts on the constructs of play from his book Gods and Games: Towards a Theology of Play (republished by David Kudler’s Stillpoint Press in 2019). The paradoxical quality of how David understands play really sings for me – and I think can open up the idea of play as a healing process in some interesting ways.
As he explores the mythology of play, David divides play into four categories, with subtitles both amplifying and refracting his message: Aesthesis: nonseriousness is the highest seriousness; Poeisis: fiction is the highest truth; Metamorphosis: change is the highest stability; Therapeia: purposeless is the highest purpose.
To me, this gets at the heart of what matters about play, and gives some guideposts to how it might connect with healing. I think this is exactly how children embrace play, instinctively. You mention dreams and play – I think this is what dreams do for adults.
I think, too, that opening ourselves to these paradoxes can be a powerful way to think of play therapy. In some ways, I think the paradoxes here are akin to the ‘play’ in a wheel – we can’t lock it down.
So, in a praxis way, I think if we embrace things that encourage us to play with/in these categories – whether it’s making, or gaming, or skipping, or simply inviting ourselves to frame our experiences in the moment in one or more of these ways, we can find some deep healing.