Play— A Confessional

By Ken Wells - 01/08/2021


To A Child- Christopher Morley

The greatest poem ever known 
Is one all poets have outgrown: 
The poetry, innate, untold, 
Of being only four years old.

Still young enough to be a part 
Of Nature’s great impulsive heart, 
Born comrade of bird, beast, and tree 
And unselfconscious as the bee-

And yet with lovely reason skilled 
Each day new paradise to build; 
Elate explorer of each sense, 
Without dismay, without pretense!

In your unstained transparent eyes 
There is no conscience, no surprise: 
Life’s queer conundrums you accept, 
Your strange divinity still kept.

Being, that now absorbs you, all 
Harmonious, unit, integral, 
Will shred into perplexing bits, – 
Oh, contradictions of the wits!

And Life, that sets all things in rhyme, 
May make you poet, too, in time- 
But there were days, O tender elf, 
When you were Poetry itself! 

The late John Bradshaw used to love to quote this poem in his workshops. Do you remember when you were 4 years old? I do have a few vague memories. One was riding my tricycle in front of my house. Another was playing with toy dump trucks, road graders, and bulldozers in our neighbor’s backyard sand pile. A little older and my memories are many. There were days that I was a part of nature’s impulsive heart. I would wake up of a morning with nothing on my agenda but to play all day long— every day, just play. I would climb mulberry trees and feast on mulberries. I’d have rotten tomato fights with my friends. I remember crawling into my neighbor’s dog house and just sit there, wondering about what it would be like to be a dog. Later still, I would ride my bike to various parts of town just to explore. The city workers would open the fire hydrant at the end of our block and water would gush out. It became sort of a poor kids’ temporary swimming pool.  

We had 40 kids living in our one block. Two families, the Leitches and Wellses had 20 kids between the two families. Our numbers pretty much dominated the street scene. We would play sports in the streets from baseball to football to basketball, depending on the season. In the summer, after it got dark, we would hang out around the street lamps and throw balls and baseball gloves into the air just to watch bats dive at them and nearly hit us. I can only remember watching cartoons on Saturday morning, other than that it was outdoors and all play. 

I wonder if you can recall what it was like when you were a child. Can you recall the paradise you built? Do you remember being unselfconscious as the bee, an explorer of each sense without dismay, without pretense? Addicts seem divided regarding matters of play. Either they learned to play well as a child and get stuck using it as part of a cocktail of escape as an adult in extreme ways, or they grew up far too early and replaced play with work and accomplishment, striving to be more to keep from being less. They switch out acting out in addiction for the escape and relief that play was designed to provide. 

I write blogs to offer hope with a sense of expertise, hoping to provide some degree of help. This blog is more confessional. You may not find this blog altruistic if you are looking for an instruction about how to play. I once knew how as a young boy. Yet, there came a time as a boy that I interpreted the events of life as telling me that I needed to put play aside and work my ass off to prove my worth and right to exist. I have been working hard ever since. As an addict, any reason is a good reason to act out with work addiction.  I have worked to eliminate my most destructive addictions that would receive the most disapproval in our culture. Yet, workaholism, my one addiction with social approval, has wreaked the greatest havoc on my ability to play. I have curbed it by limiting the number of hours I work. Now, I take days off. I have less energy as I grow older, so that limits the addiction. Meditation has helped to cut through the obsession about work. I am learning to sit with my feelings and do nothing. Yet, work addiction has robbed me of the creativity of play. Many addicts are great with play, but I am one of those who do not play very well. I can read, study, work out and organize very well. I know how to self-start. Yet, playing has not been a strength in my adult years.

My colleague, Marilyn Murray, has been helpful with thousands of people around the world, teaching them to honor their original feeling child. The original feeling child (OFC) is that unfragmented child at conception with innate intelligence, creativity, and capacity to feel all your feelings. It is Morley’s tender elf that is poetry itself. She invites drawings of expression for the original feeling child to detail the experiences of engaging fun, adventure and enunciation. With conviction she shares that this is where true spirituality is engaged by honoring the original feeling child!

So I confess that I have not embraced my original feeling child and honored him in best ways. I have learned to not shame myself for this delinquency. I connect with so many who have come to seek healing from their addictions and who struggle with recognizing their original feeling child. There have been moments in my life that I have played well as an adult. It has not become a lifestyle. I mean for God’s sake; I am writing this blog about playing at 4:30 in the morning before I start my day of work! Yet, I can ponder and contemplate a different way of living that includes my original feeling child. So, I will. I have committed to my son Sam that I will join him this winter, COVID willing, to ski with him in Idaho. Though I have skied in the past, I am “working” to eliminate the need to establish a standard to strive to achieve mogul skiing in old age. For a workaholic, any time is a good time to go to work!

I will go to a Goodwill store and purchase a discarded stuffed bear to remind me not to discard my original feeling child. During my run this morning, I will run without listening to a book that I am determined to knock out, and will just listen to the birds and traffic. I will go as far as I can and then walk without condemnation. After all, once I reach the telephone pole or the end of a certain block of determined destination, there is no finish line or timekeeper to judge my performance, except me. I will invite my wife to dance to old tunes that we grew up with. We do know something about how to dance. This week I will spend time in my backyard sitting next to my 60’ ash tree reflecting on the many ways that I learned to play and then pick one of them and re-enact my childhood in the here and now as a reminder of the importance of play in my life. In my time of meditation and prayer I will pray “God help me, after all that I have accomplished in recovery and 12-step living, teach me to play again1” 
What about you? Do you need to re-acquaint yourself with your original feeling child? What are you willing to do to re-engage “nature’s great impulsive heart’ within you?  T. S. Eliot in his poem Little Gidding wrote “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make and end is to make a beginning. We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring, will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” May God help us in our recovery journey to go back to embrace the original feeling child where we first started and know that place for the first time. These will be the days o tender elf, that we will be poetry itself! (C. Morley).

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