“Creating” room in our lives for play

Photo L Meyer

Openness and the ability to access exploratory play are big parts of creativity, but as we get older we become alienated from these abilities. We were all born with this built in imagination. For creativity to work we need to embrace unpredictability. We need to step outside the rules.

David Usher

In this past year our neighbourhood playground has been closed off with yellow warning tape, reopened fully, and now has a barrage of signs with Covid warnings and public health guidelines. Watching small children play with abandon is a fascinating albeit rare event these days. But the manner in which a child creates something, engages in play of any kind is a glimpse into a process that we could all stand to incorporate more often into our own lives.

Spending time observing children in a nearby playground made me keenly aware of how little time adults spend in play. I watched tiny hands piling a mound of sand switching to suddenly run off to gather mounds of sticks then darting back to position them in just a certain way and finally finished with a smooth stone placed on top. To my adult eye this appeared to be a haphazard way of “playing” in the sandbox with the result seeming to be just a pile of messy debris. As quickly as that thought occurred to me, the child decides it is finished and runs off to find her mother to show off her creation. Her exuberance over her creation and excitement to share it with her mother was compelling.

When did we lose our ability to find joy in the most obscure of our creative ventures? If we are makers or creators, we may impose a set of expectations upon ourselves that are not only unrealistic but self-defeating. Do we need to expect that everything we set out to do will find its way into the public domain? Of course not, yet that is precisely what happens for many artists. Our bursts of creative passion are often tempered by rumination, negative self talk that remind us that we are not good enough, creative enough, etc.

The pressure we place upon ourselves before we even sit down to write, or to paint often leaves us in a state of inertia where we erroneously believe it is safer to do nothing than to resist all of this self imposed negativity and persevere. Imagine for a moment if children approached their daily play activities with inappropriate expectations and terror that their sand creation would never be published or purchased. Sounds inane, right? Because it is. And that goes for adults as well.

Instead of defining what we will do with our art before we even create it, what if we just make space in our lives for play, to just create, and become just okay with that. If something emerges that we could send into the world, then perhaps we will do that. But otherwise, it is the process of creativity in and of itself that should be what is of importance. As humans we can be creative in every aspect of our lives. So if we can’t write, or shoot a photograph, or collage or paint a masterpiece, perhaps we are cooking or gardening or bringing pieces of creativity to our work lives.

Relearning to create like a child is a gift that we all deserve to give to ourselves. Although it may seem that taking precious time for exploratory play is frivolous given our daily responsibilities and obligations, we will lose out on those creative leaps that occur when we give ourselves permission to let our imaginative powers loose. Finding those sparks that light us up can be possible when we relax our perfectionistic expectations and learn to lean into the moment. Letting your play flags fly may take us further than we think. And no matter the result, it can’t hurt us to play a bit more often.

Stay healthy and safe!

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