In an earlier post I said that I envy my little nephew (5 years old) for his ability to be completely there in the moment. This is also true – maybe even more so – for his little sister who is 2 years old. You could also say: I envy them for their ability to play. Whenever my niece stumbles across something that’s new to her, she curiously takes a look at it, picks it up and starts playing with it. She’s a discoverer.
Playing is an The-journey-is-the-award-activity. It’s aimless. Playing is just for the sake of playing, simply for the fun of it. You have no idea where you will end up when you start playing. And it does not matter.
But how am I supposed to do that, how can I achieve a playful attitude in my (more or less) grown-up world? Maybe by:
- Staying open-minded like my little niece, trying things out, improvising, following where chance leads me
- Not caring about the result. Where I end up in the end is not important.
- Not judging, not criticizing, not thinking in terms of right or wrong, good or bad.
My nephew has already started developing the ability to judge, at least when it comes to his little sister. Visiting some time ago I took out a coloring book and set about starting to draw with my niece, when my nephew came up to us. “She can’t draw”, he said dismissively. “She draws like this!” And he demonstrated by scrawling some longs marks across the page, not staying within the lines.
When playing it’s fine to make up some rules for yourself if they make playing more interesting (such as staying in the lines for a “mature” five-year-old). But it’s also okay to bend them and adjust them to your needs (the way a two-year-old does).
I’m not good at playing, I’m not good at shutting up my inner critic. For example when sketching: Normally my goal is to achieve a certain likeness, so that it’s recognizable what I tried to draw. In the end I usually sit back and start judging: This part is not so good and this part looks completely wrong and so on. So even though I enjoy the journey it’s still the final result that I’m interested in.
Playing is a little different. Playing can happen when trying out a new media, trying out different techniques. So at the end you do not have a finished picture but just a page full of blobs and lines and color. Plus: you had fun trying things out.
You might even think: Wow, that blob there is a really cool effect. (This much judgement should be allowed – even when playing.)
Or think of doodling: this is a way of aimless playing/drawing that almost everybody knows.
A playful attitude can lead to a lot of fun in any kind of activity. Let’s take cooking for example. Throwing in some new ingredient or combining some ingredients you don’t usually put in the pot together, can make it more interesting.
This doesn’t necessarily mean completely going wild and throwing in stuff that doesn’t fit in at all – unless of course you feel like doing this. But just try out putting in a little of something new, and if it tastes okay, toss in some more.
It most probably will be edible. It might even taste good. And once in a while you will come across a real discovery.