The Healing Power of Play

Loosening the grip of negative emotions through play is one of my favorite ways to shift out of misery into happiness. It's not only fun but it's

Loosening the grip of negative emotions through play is one of my favorite ways to shift out of misery into happiness. It’s not only fun but it’s healing as well. I’m quoted about this topic in a new book called Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds by Dr. Kelly Turner which reveals the top nine common denominators in people who healed their cancer naturally.

One of the nine healing factors she writes about is the importance of having positive emotions like joy, love, and happiness, which turn on healing genes and enhance the immune system. But it’s a tall order to feel positive feelings when cancer (and death!) is rattling your cage. When I was diagnosed with cancer despite all my years of living a health-conscious life, I tried to be positive, but a biting bitterness was chomping at the bit, grousing, “Geesh, I ate salads and drank wheat grass juice every day and still got cancer! And my 80-year-old neighbor is puffing on cigarettes and hacking away all day and she’s probably going to outlive me! I might as well eat junk food and take up smoking!”

So I named this cynical one Cynny and invited her to fully express herself. Here’s my quote from the Radical Remission book:

“Play is a powerful shift tool when I’m stuck in negative patterns. When I notice my cynical attitude is taking over, I play with it! I give it a name, Cynny, and I exaggerate her grousing. I let her rip! This brings her out of the shadows, into the light, into wholeness, and I expand into the playful, prayerful state of grace. Plus, it’s just plain fun!”

It’s true. When I exaggerate and play with whichever one of the miffed me’s I’m stuck in, it helps release the stuckness. Whether it’s feeling cynical about cancer or feeling like ‘chopped liver’ in a relationship – playing with it helps it move through. When every one of our shadows (disowned parts) is welcomed, then there’s nothing lurking in the shadows, and the shadows become integrated – the result is wholeness (the words ‘whole’ and ‘heal’ share the same root).

Recently I felt hurt by something a friend did, and the hurt festered into resentment. I was so stuck in vitriolic victimhood that I was ashamed to tell my husband Tom about it. I could see it clearly and knew it was my stuff, but I was stuck and couldn’t release it. Fortunately my need for transparency won out and I told him about it. He offered to do a Persona Interview (a fun and revealing self-awareness tool created by Gay and Katie Hendricks). The interviewer asks the persona these six questions: What’s the most important thing to you? What are you most proud of? When did you make your first appearance? Who did you learn your style from? What are you most afraid of? What do you most want?

What I discovered is that this resentful persona is a darker cousin of Cynny — I call this one the Creeping Crud of Resentment. It takes over when hurt feelings fester into resentment. In the persona interview I let myself BE the Creeping Crud of Resentment, full-blown, sneering, snarling, loud and unleashed, letting it all hang out. I had to laugh at her vehement victim vengeance – she’s so wicked! I understood and liked her better when I learned that what she deeply wants is to know that people care about how she feels (and what she most fears is that they don’t care).

Another key healing factor that Kelly Turner discovered among cancer thrivers was the value of clearing emotional blockages by releasing suppressed emotions. In other words, bringing our shadows into the light where they can be healed. (It’s interesting that when cancer is seen on an x ray it’s seen as a shadow.) The Creeping Crud of Resentment is one of my most embarrassing shadows. You know it’s a shadow when it’s something you’re ashamed of and try to hide. The more I bring this shadow into light and befriend and play with it, the more it lightens up and heals.

It’s true — love, joy, and happiness can heal what ails us, and so can facing, revealing and releasing whatever dark feelings are repressing our aliveness (and our immune system). There are many ways to do that, but for me the most fun way is to play with it, welcome it, make it bigger and more outrageous! When you crack yourself up, you crack yourself open and are more available for deep learning and healing. And, if you can laugh at something, you can be free of it.

What shadows of yours are you most ashamed to reveal? Invite them to the party, give them a party hat, exaggerate them, let it rip, and celebrate the healing power of play!

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