Creative play is key to resilience and possibility

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“The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.” ~ Julia Cameron

I’ve been following my heart more and paying attention to a) what it guides me to do, b) how it feels to do it, and c) what the aftereffects are. Yesterday I was reminded that I have more resources in potentially frustrating situations when I’ve been creative at some point in the day. Yesterday morning, inspired by Nina Katchadourian’s “Sorted Books Series,” I played with arranging random but interestingly-titled books in stacks to form poetic phrases. Later, I spent maybe twenty minutes doing a quick watercolor of clouds over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge while at the after party for the annual Bay Swim.

That evening, when faced with a cranky, most unpleasant teenager, I seemed to have endless patience with him. Instead of the usual reactionary “who do you think you are” inner voice goading me to say things I’ll regret, I kept trying different tactics to reach him and bring him back to his usual sunny self. I stayed calm and nimble, creative instead of triggered. What’s behind this magic? My first thought is that creative play inoculates me. It puts me in a good mood, so I can face challenges with resilience. And, while that’s true to a degree, there’s something deeper at work here.

What was going on as I sorted through books and arranged them into piles to form haikus, koans, or just evocative, playful phrases? What about when I was sitting in the blazing hot sun, working color onto paper to capture a boiling thundercloud in a summer blue sky? In both cases, I was in a charmed space of possibility, of both/and, of no right or wrong. I was asking questions like, what happens if I try this? Giving myself permission to seek, without having a specific direction or goal of finding anything in particular. So whenever a theme or phrase or color emerged, it was a delightful surprise. A gift.

Our culture tells us that, as adults, we have to be serious. We have to contribute to making the world better or to making money to support our families, or whatever other outer-directed goals. Nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel. Which is not an enjoyable way to go about anything. It also tells us that there should be a right answer to our questions. And if you don’t get that answer, you are in the wrong. There’s a best way to do something, usually as directed by an authority figure. Follow directions. Follow the rules. Stay in line.

It feels almost subversive to be advocating a playful approach instead. There’s that phrase, “Play is the work of the child,” referring to how children learn by playfully imitating the adults around them. I’m starting to think that play is also the work of the adult. I’m not saying we should all start acting as if we have not responsibilities. There’s a faculty all humans possess called the imagination. Let’s use it more. Let’s give ourselves permission to approach our work with curiosity, expansiveness, and possibility. We just may find we’re living more from our hearts, enjoying our work, and meeting challenges with creativity, wit, and resilience.

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