On Play and Me.
Over the past few years of my life, I’ve bumped up against the ideas of creativity, lightheartedness, and imagination. And I say “bumped up against” because they are parts of me that hard to access. For a long time, I assumed I wasn’t creative. It was a combination of the books the Artist’s Way and The War of Art, along with a yearning in my soul and one specific experience a few months ago that made me realize we all have creative power—it’s just a matter of dormancy for some of us. I could no longer use the excuse ‘‘I’m just not creative,” and understood that I had to work to access my creativity. That, in conjunction with learning how important creativity is for us for our psychological development and happiness was, and is, daunting.
Side note on that specific experience. Over the summer, a serendipitous thing happened where I met a woman on the street and was granted a keyboard and piano lessons. This happened weeks after I decided I’d like to try to play again. I played paino ages 6-12. No prodigy here, but decent. All 6 years I played, I read sheet music. I played someone else’s music and it never ever occurred to me to just “play around” on the piano.
During my only two lessons with my new teacher, I was given one of life’s greatest gifts. She gave me permission to create. Well what she actually did was ask me, “Have you ever composed your own music?” to which I scoffed incredulously. And then she proceeded to give me the very very simple tools to create my own music. I’m not talking about performance worthy. Or even worthy of any other human to hear it. But it was never about what I created, it was about following my own tune, aimless, agendaless. I lost track of time, improvised in a way I’d not done before, and felt nourished by the efforts. I didn’t judge the results. It was so powerful at the time that I almost cried. I couldn’t believe it had never occurred to me to play on the piano instead of play the piano.
With lightheartedness . . . well let’s start with the fact that I chose the word lightheartedness as an antonym to being serious. I am serious, pensive. I’m tempted to say there was a culmination of moments that led me to understand this about myself because I remember there being a shift: a before-I-knew-I-was-a-serious-person and an after-I-knew-I-was-a-serious-person. Among my immediate family growing up, I never considered myself serious. It was later in life that friends made comments or I saw my reactions to things more objectively that made me realize humor doesn’t come as easily to me, and I’m deeply absorbed in thought most of the time. There’s a sticky spot for me when it comes to the ability to let go of inhibitions to allow myself to be goofy, to mess up.
Then there’s imagination—to create thoughts that are not limited by the boundaries and limitations of this physical world. Inherent to it’s very nature is that imagination is not real. So then, it’s limitless! Yet, my imagination is so limited by the plaguing if’s and but’s. I didn’t realize this before I met Jerid, my partner. Without this turning into an Ode to Jerid (because he is my world), it will suffice to say that one of his most attractive and eye opening qualities to me is his ability to allow his mind to wander. He comes up with ideas faster than I can come up with yoga sequences because he’s not afraid of all the potential obstacles that may or may never happen were any of it to ever materialize. It’s just a thought! So why not see where it can go?
So, why is this all relevant right now? Because I recently finished reading the book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, M.D. He details how play has a crucial role in children’s cognitive and emotional development. But he continues to write that because humans’ brains continue to develop long after childhood, play is actually an essential part of our humanity, something we benefit from engaging in throughout the entire length of our lives. While Brown lists seven qualities that he uses to define play, he writes that ultimately, play is state of mind. It’s because of this that play is not the opposite of work—play and work are actually mutually supportive, and the real opposite of play is depression (whoa). Reading his book made me realize that creativity, lightheartedness, and imagination are all the results of play. It’s as though I can less dauntingly explore the qualities of play and know that within the play state of mind, the rest will follow. (En Vogue anyone??)
On Play and Movement.
Brown writes: “Movement is primal . . . If you don’t understand and appreciate human movement, you won’t really understand yourself or play . . . Movement play lights up the brain and fosters learning, innovation, flexibility, adaptability, and resilience,” the essential qualities for human survival throughout the evolution of our species. Two posts ago, I wrote about the difference between exercise and movement and the importance of making that distinction for our overall health. There are definitely some people for whom exercise is playful which, according to 2 of Brown’s 7 defining properties of play, means that the exercise is done for its own sake (no higher purpose) and done with a desire to continue. I will venture to say that most people don’t feel this way about exercise. Thinking about movement differently from exercise gives us the opportunity to move our bodies in a way that is so desirable that we enjoy it just for the sake of it; in a way that makes us want to keep going; in a way where we have the potential to improvise on the spot (another one of Brown’s play properties).
I think that if all fitness/movement professionals, can, in addition to what we already teach, make movement so approachable that it becomes a catalyst for play and exploration, we’d be contributing an invaluable and lasting tool for a healthy way of living.
This is a great short article from GMB about how to start moving playfully.