Although the most trying, painful times in my life each have been marked by their own constellation of circumstances, I can safely surmise that a lack of play and imagination lied at the core. In those periods, I experienced my thoughts and emotions as facts etched in stone. Like a sentence to prison without parole. In the throes of such literalism, there was no wiggle room to consider other options. Conversely, when I approach the world with a playful stance, the mundane can turn into the sacred. Anxiety can transform into creativity. And fear can soften into a sense of wonder.
Given this stark contrast between life with and without play, one might think that I would have figured out a way to bottle up this magical elixir. And yet this frame of mind remains so darn elusive to me. I don’t think it means that I’m too much of a stick-in-the-mud (although haters may beg to differ!). Rather, I think play is play precisely because it is difficult to pin down. It has an emergent quality. It is ephemeral, mercurial even, and can not happen on demand. It is a frame of mind that arises in the sweet spot where safety and novelty intersect. And this brings me to...
Yes, road trips, for me, are fertile ground for play. On such a journey, I’m in the familiar shell of my own car and often with a travel companion who elicits a sense of belonging. I can let my guard down. I also have a sense of agency (unlike with air travel) - my input on temperature, music selection, or when to stop for a break impacts the space. Moreover, I am moving and the terrain is constantly changing - stimulating and out of the ordinary but not overwhelming. Within this flow state, in-between-ness is tolerable. I may be anticipating arrival at a particular destination, and yet I truly revel in the pit stops at little diners off the interstate, the conversations that can unfold when there’s little distraction, or the way that time stands still when simply looking out the window. Possibility is in the air, and I'm ready for exploration. In this line of thought, play is not about fun or pleasure per se. Instead, its essence is characterized by social connection and active engagement with the present.
This all said, the salve to the next big obstacle may not be to literally hit the open road, but rather to get curious about what’s obscuring my imaginative capacity. Or as poet David Whyte says, “Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation. The kettle is singing even as it pours you a drink….Everything is waiting for you.”
Taz Morgan, MA, is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #99714, working under the supervision of Vanessa Spooner, PsyD. She has trained in Depth-oriented psychotherapy and works with adolescents, adults, and couples.