The Importance Of Play In Academia

So, I am currently taking this class on Rural Community Engagement and it’s probably the most unique and hands-on class I’ve ever taken in grad school to date. Not only are the classes very interactive and engaging, but we often have very interesting guest speakers come in, who are extremely intelligent, funny, well-spoken, and worldly.

However, today’s class was a completely different experience – one that I shall remember for a very, very long time. It was unlike any class I’d been in before. The first thing I noticed when I entered the class earlier this evening was the set-up. It was completely changed. Instead of the usual seminar style seating (where we all sit in a square), our professor had removed all the tables and instead left the chairs; and the chairs were placed in such a way so that it made a circle. (I will talk about circles and what they are exactly in my next post, as it’s an extremely interesting concept and, for my major project, I plan to conduct a circle of my own with Pashtun women in my community.) And because my class is small (we have about 12 students), this makes the “circle” experience much more intimate and engaging, because the beauty of these circle-style seating is that we are all seated in such a way so that we are facing each other. It’s similar to how people are seated during rehab or therapy sessions, and I’m sure you’ve seen those, either in person or in movies, at some point or another.

Anyway, so, our guest speaker earlier this evening was an incredibly intriguing woman. Not only is she an academic, but she’s also – are you ready for this? – a dancer! Yes, like myself, she’s also an artist! And she’s not just an ordinary dancer for she is quite well-renowned in my community, and has won many awards for her amazingly unique choreography. I, naturally, took an instant liking to her. To me, she was not just a beautiful and intelligent woman, but I loved the fact that she knew exactly how to balance her academic life with her other, more fun and spontaneous, life.

So, we literally started off the class doing yoga stretches! I loved how she managed to take us out of our comfort zones, right off the bat. Even the shyest students in my class were suddenly more interactive, because she managed to engage us all in such a way that was not only comfortable, but also fun. We were then given pieces of paper that we picked out from a jar with a word written on that we had to act out. I love acting and I had no problem getting up and acting out my word (it almost seemed like we were playing charades), but I wondered how the other students – the shyer, more reserved ones – would act out their words. However, to my utter surprise, they did it; they acted out their words brilliantly and without being as shy about it either. It was such a pleasant surprise! And that wasn’t all, throughout the course of the class (which is usually three hours long), we participated in a series of different activities, where we had to act out certain shapes, or stand in various poses in groups of three or four, or walk around in circles (first looking at the floor, and the second time, looking at each other). And it was so interesting how we managed to analyse each act; each behaviour; each emotion; etc., hence realizing things about ourselves and the people around us that we didn’t know about before. We ended off the class with the circle, where we all sat, facing each other, and talked about what we’d learned from all the activities we’d done thus far; and whether we felt they were “silly,” “intellectually-stimulating,” “fun,” or simply a “waste of time.”

Of course, none of us said that it was silly or a waste of time, but I’m sure there exist people, many people out there, who wouldn’t agree with us. And that’s when it got me thinking. A lot. You see, dear readers, in academia, it’s too easy to allow our lives to become completely dominated by our work responsibilities. And as academics, we frequently do not have time to balance out our lives the way we want to; for we witness everything through our particular disciplinary lens. It is important, therefore, that in our lives, we pursue passions – any passion – whether it be blogging, dancing, painting/drawing, sports, etc. because our extra-curricular activities tend to inspire our future research. In other words, we need to maintain a sense of play. And this desire to play, to escape the strictures of academic life and maintain a capacity of wonder, becomes apparent the further we delve into spaces that require minimum or no time for such things.

Further, I realize that getting people (especially strangers, or people whom you’ve never met before) out of their comfort zone is not easy. And the way our guest speaker did it with such ease takes skill. And lots of it. But, we shouldn’t have to shy away from trying, because what may seem silly or unimportant to others, may actually deem quite therapeutic and fun, if they actually gave such activities and experiences a chance.

I know we always claim that we are too busy to do this or do that, or that we are swamped with school work or research papers; however, we shouldn’t limit ourselves when it comes to play. We need play in our lives. I’ve come to realize that it’s one of the driving forces to success. And when I say play, it doesn’t necessarily have to be something physical or an activity; play may also include puzzles (crossword), laughter (yes, laughing is the most beautiful way to release stress), or perhaps even just closing our eyes to meditate for five to ten minutes.

I know what I am saying here may sound matter-of-fact to some people, but you’d be surprised how so many of us, myself included, never bothered with such things before. And the reason was mainly because I didn’t realize its importance; this positive energy that we have locked up inside of us, because we are simply “too busy” to release it and share this positivity with the rest of the world.

But hopefully all that will change now. Starting tonight.

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