Release the pause button on play…

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

We do not stop playing because we get old; we grow old because we stop playing

George Bernard Shaw

Have you ever found yourself slugging through your day to day life and realized that playfulness is not part of it? Watching two neighbourhood children today, chasing each other while blowing soap bubbles and giggling so hard one of them began to hiccup, I felt like I had an epiphany. Play. That is what seems to be missing from my present “taking everything far too seriously” adult life.

It’s typically something fairly innocuous that alerts you to that dawning sense of something being amiss. But once you figure it out, you can’t unsee it.

Probably the state of mind most helpful during times of stress and strain, is a playful mind. But it is also the hardest state to transition to when everything in your immediate focus is through an intensely serious lens. And when it seems any spare moment should be dedicated to some task or type of work that needs to be completed, or at the very least, doing something “worthwhile”, play seems frivolous and far removed.

Knowing that there are adverse consequences to play deprivation, I have been trying to create a “play” list. (Pun intentional, ha – maybe I will get there after all!). Photography has always been my favourite way to play and I haven’t had my camera out for quite some time. Point of fact, the battery was almost dead. So as I write this, I can glance over at my camera on the charger and see that it still has a ways to go. Just like I do.

There are a multitude of ways to tap into this desired state of mind. A quick web search reveals a plethora of articles, blog posts, research studies on the importance of play to our overall well being and stock ideas about how to incorporate it into our busy adult lives. But it seems trite to assume that by playing video games, doing crossword puzzles, dancing in your kitchen as though no one is watching, could magically counter the impact of stress and burnout.

So where to begin. Reflection on this challenge seems to point to a sort of mind over matter type of thing. So it seems like if I can wrestle with the biggest barrier, attitude, I feel like I might just be on my way. And it also seems important to set goals to play, to do things with absolutely no purpose, to simply seek out moments for mindless enjoyment and fun.

How weird that part of responsible adulting becomes losing touch with that most important aspect of childhood. To be playful. Seems so simple when I write it like that. But I have a sense that I am going to have to work hard at my play goals. Wish me luck!

Stay safe, have fun!

“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!

Random acts of “whimsy”

Photo credit – L Meyer

You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life

Mary Oliver

Have you ever stopped to reflect on how many aspects of our lives are governed by work, productivity, money, politics, etc. As opposed to spontaneity, creativity, and playfulness. We often believe that we lose our ability to play as we develop into adulthood. But it doesn’t need to end there. There are many ways that adults can play, be creative, and share this wonderful trait with others.

I have walked by this collection of magical bird houses in my neighbourhood for a number of months without recognizing just how precious and rare this whimsical creation really is. Our ability to engage in playful, fanciful pursuits is often curbed by being too busy, too stressed, or taking ourselves and our lives too seriously.

Indeed, as we move forward in our lives, we also seem to lose our natural abilities to live in the moment. This causes many of us to ignore the simple joys that exist in our daily surroundings. And right now this all seems to be complicated by the many potentially destructive and harmful forces in our lives that are currently impacting so many people around the globe.

How do we find our way back to those moments in our lives where we can play, where we can simply be and briefly take time to step back to enjoy a chance to see life through a more playful lens. Seeking out the whimsical in our lives can be inspirational and bring meaning into our daily routines. By looking around our neighbourhoods and communities, we may be pleasantly surprised by the creations of others designed to bring small pleasures into the world for all of us to enjoy.

The more I walk mindfully each day in the area where I live, the more amazed I have become by the creative actions of others. Whether it is an art installation, guerrilla gardening on unused patches of land, or a whimsical birdhouse collection in a back alley. These playful creations underscore our positive and real connections to each other.

Now more than ever, we need to either seek out random acts of whimsy in our part of this world or to create them ourselves and share with others. We can’t underestimate the healing power of play and creativity!

Stay healthy and safe!