Can you remember when you were last really absorbed in a task? When you lost yourself in the pleasure of carrying out one step, and then another? Worries floated away as you just focused on the job in hand.
This is flow.
Children generally achieve flow very easily. They will arrange buttons or stones just so, poke at a hole until they can get a finger into it, unravel a whole ball of wool, peel the petals off a rose and then start on the anthers…There is such pleasure to be had! From the physical sensations, from the colours or patterns, from the movement, from the sounds. But also from the sense of purpose.
Often projects grow: we feel a mounting excitement as we think, “I know! I can just add a little bit more here” and we start to imagine what more we might create: the sandcastle grows and is decorated by shells and pebbles and feathers, the mud pie has sticks and flowers and berries pushed into it, the shards of ice are balanced just so to make a precarious tepee. Gardening is very much like this: we become completely absorbed in the sensory pleasure of digging through heavy soil, pricking out seedlings, podding peas.
I often go out into the garden thinking that I will just have a little wander and see what is happening. Two hours later I have pruned the roses, raked up some leaves, divided a couple of plants, and pulled up a load of brambles and nettles creeping under the back fence. One thing leads to another, and it is not a chore because it simply unfolds. It’s a bit like playing.
We live in a world where our multi-sensory experience is compromised. We have desk-jobs and drive to work, where once we would have been working under the sky, in all weathers, hearing the birds, splashing through mud, cracking frozen puddles, picking fruit, lugging around heavy equipment, being constantly exposed to colours and textures and noises and and smells.
The sky is a good place to start reconnecting with your playful side. We can all indulge in a bit of cloud-spotting. Some cloud-scapes are like mountain-ranges, or islands in a vast ocean. Sometimes the sky looks like we have accidentally floated off to another planet, and find ourselves on Mars. Why not have a little daydream about that?
Sometimes, when there is heavy cloud-cover, it looks like we are underwater and looking up to the surface of the sea, like we are divers, or whales. Sometimes the sky is like a stage-set: on a misty day there are silhouettes of varying greys that look like paper cut-outs.
Children follow their urges when they play, and do not worry about what others think of them. If they see a butterfly, they will follow it. If they find a flower, they will pull off its petals and look closely at the structure inside. This is not destructive: it is natural curiosity.
You don’t have to have an end product when you play. A week before we decorate our Christmas tree, I get all the baubles out, and just have a play with them. I might arrange them on the carpet into rainbow colours. I might hold them up to the light and spin them a bit. I am forty-three. But why not?
I was just admiring a stem of Lamprocapnos, or ‘Bleeding Heart’ (or ‘Lady’s Locket’, ‘Dutchman’s Breeches’ or ‘Lady in a Bath’. You can see why:
I thought to myself, “I’ve never looked inside. What puffs it up?” So I peeled off the pigtails, noting they also resemble a lampshade or a farthingale. I found a stiff framework beneath:
And then I saw you could pull the two halves of the heart apart. This revealed the stamens and stigma. They have a spring mechanism, like a pair of tweezers. They also look like a dinosaur’s open mouth:
Play is not pointless. Play is curiosity and wonder and joy. Play is the freedom to dream, and imagine, and create.
We should not stop playing the moment we hit 13. Play is a noble art, and should be cultivated throughout life.
If you want to bring more playfulness into your life, get outside. Follow your senses. Investigate the way a bud attaches to a tree-branch. Look under stones. Stir up a pond with a stick. Fish some pondweed out, and flick it onto the side. You might even see a creature crawl out. Listen. See if you can find the bird singing to you. Kick some leaves. Touch some moss. See the world anew, as if you were visiting from outer-space.
There is magic out there. Go and find some.
I would love to hear any comments or discoveries, not matter how small. Don’t be shy. I’m the person who spins baubles to look at the colours they make.