Deep Play: 5 Ways To Have Grown-up Fun This Summer… And All Year Round

Grownup play

Hot fun in the summertime!

“In rare moments of deep play, we can lay aside our sense of self, shed time’s continuum, ignore pain, and sit quietly in the absolute present, watching the world’s ordinary miracles.”      Diane Ackerman

 A friend introduced me to Diane Ackerman’s book, “Deep Play” years ago and the notion has been dancing in my psyche ever since. “Deep play,” Ackerman says, “is the ecstatic form of play. In its thrall, all the play elements are visible, but they’re taken to intense and transcendent heights.”  She suggests that risk, obsession, pleasure, distractedness, timelessness and a sense of the holy or sacred are all fundamental to deep play.

What experiences of your own would you characterize as deep play? For me, it occurs when I’m dancing in the sacred space of a ritual circle. Or, in a completely different mode, when I’m flying behind a boat waterskiing — I feel at once completely connected to my body as I relish the thrill of gliding across the water and at the same time, transported beyond the stress of the day and the mental chatter attached to it.

Deep play can certainly be a thrill-seeking extravaganza, particularly of the physical variety. I’ll never forget watching the rapture in my son’s eyes years ago as he described the rush of flipping off a 20-foot cliff… and landing in a painful belly-smacker. I asked him if he’d do it again and he sighed blissfully, “Oh, I did it a bunch of times. Now I really want to try sky diving, too!” And he fulfilled that wish on his 21st birthday! Not my idea of a transcendent experience, but then, I’m not apt to try motorcycle racing, extreme skiing or hang-gliding either.

The Common Elements of Deep Play

For many of us, we’re more likely to experience a sense of deep play in a concert hall, during yoga or meditation, in front of an easel, or while writing a poem. Regardless of the venue, however, we come away from the encounter enchanted, awestruck, exhilarated and otherwise transformed.

Moments of deep play can happen accidentally, as when we crest a hill on our bikes and are left breathless by the vista we find there.  But, I think a prolonged experience of it occurs when we create an intention and take action to find it – like climbing on the bike in the first place. We must make a choice to welcome it into our lives.

How often do you consciously open yourself up to the possibility of discovery, exploration, novelty, pushing your limits?  Personally, I think a regular dose of deep play is essential to maintain optimal focus, balance and creativity in our lives.  What better time to cultivate a habit of playing deeply than during the expansive summer months!

Deep Play in the office??

Having said that, however, we also have to acknowledge that even in the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer”, most of us still have to work.  Is it possible to steal moments of deep play while we’re not on vacation? Or, better yet, to transform our entire workday into a deep play-ground? I say YES, and here are a few ideas to get you started…

1) Put fun toys, photos and mementos on your desk. Certainly, one way to promote an attitude of play all day long is to create an environment that supports it. Obviously, that may be easier to do in a home office, with bright colors of your choosing, fun music playing, or candles burning. But even in the stuffiest office, you can usually get away with having a beautiful photograph or object on your desk that transports you back to a vacation or retreat experience. Little hand-held puzzles and games (not the electronic kind!) can provide a play break, too.

2) Hit the playground and act like a kid! Okay, let’s not ignore the all-out joyful, fun type of play in this discussion!  When is the last time you see-sawed with a friend… or better yet, a co-worker?! And yes, it is possible to swing very high with a suit jacket on or a skirt tucked under you. How about keeping some jacks or a Frisbee in your desk drawer, or a yo-yo, or one of those little paddles with a ball attached where you bat the ball as often as you whack your head?!  I think silliness has an important place in deep play as well!

3) Learn team-building games. I’ve never forgotten the keynote speaker at one of my coaching conferences years ago. His name is Matt Weinstein and People magazine dubbed him “the master of playfulness”. Matt uses games and humor to promote team-building in organizations and showed us how to create a powerful mix of fun and deep connection – you can check out some of his videos at

4) Pull out a coloring book.  Keep some crayons and colored pencils in your desk drawer! Adult coloring books have become all the rage in the last few years… some of my favorites are Keep Calm and Color On (gotta love the name) and Calm Coloring: Mandalas. When you take a coloring break, you’re actually shifting out of the left-brained, linear, rational mode into your creative, intuitive right-brain. Not only is it calming and fun, but you come back to your latest project with more focus and maybe even new inspiration.

5) Collect art supplies for the whole office. And expanding on that idea, maybe you can persuade your co-workers (and management) to create an arts-and-crafts closet with supplies for everyone — water paints, Playdoh, colorful construction paper and scissors… you name it. There’s an ever-growing body of research that demonstrates the power of play as a positive team-builder, while also relieving stress and fatigue, and enhancing confidence and creativity.

Take some time to create your own personal toy box, both at work and at home, and make the commitment to practice a little deep play whenever you can. Find out for yourself how it calms your busy brain, sooths your soul and deepens your relationships. I want to hear about it!

I’m a Life & Career Transition Coach and Interfaith Minister and I founded Spirited Living™ to help guide spirited women and men through life’s big changes with joy and ease. I love creating simple rituals to help people navigate those changes and I’m the author of “Circle of One: The Art of Becoming a SELF-Centered Woman”. You can email me at to schedule a free 20-minute conversation to talk about ways you can bring more play into YOUR life!