“Wisdom begins in wonder.” ~ Socrates
“I wonder”—two of my favorite words. Despite loving the luscious openness of the inquiry, I’m not always good at wondering. Sometimes I get stuck gazing through a fixed lens, trapped in myopia, thinking I know what’s right when really I can’t possibly know.
The gift of wonder is that it invites me to soften my tired focused eyes for a moment, exhale and open. It is a resting space between my litany of beliefs and opinions where I can swim free like a child in seas of unchartered possibilities. It is the unraveling of my clenched working-mind, a limen into the mysterious that no thought can lead me to.
For these reasons, wonder is not easy. The conditioned logical mind that runs our lives more than we know loves to grasp and hold on. Its identity is built from thick walls of knowledge gathered and steeped for decades. A small dose of wonder may feel like an 8.2 magnitude earthquake shaking it from its sturdy foundation of definiteness. Wonder can be a threat to its existence.
Wonder may not be comfortable, but it is necessary if we are to grow beyond the confines of the consensual. It may make our psyche unhappy and insecure to lose control of what it knows, but wonder will edify your heart and mind, and those of the children in your life.
Hmmm… I wonder how play raises a child…
“The more uncertain I have felt about myself, the more there has grown up in me a feeling of kinship with all things.” ~ Carl Jung
What if we play with wonder for a bit?
Specifically, what if when looking at children playing we lightly asked ourselves, “I wonder what they are learning?” “I wonder how they are developing?” “I wonder what they know that I don’t know?” When an answer comes, what if we were curious about it, and then released it so we could swim further into another idea? What if we kept swimming, asking, wondering, exploring the possibilities of play just like a child does? How many ways could we imagine children learning and developing through the spirit of play?
You may come up with some obvious answers like counting, imagination or cooperation; things that your eyes can see, you remember experiencing yourself, you have read or heard others say. Now go a bit deeper. Soften your eyes. Quiet your mind and open your heart even more. What else might there be? Listen closely. See if you can sense the nuanced intelligence of play.
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
What does your heart tell you?
Perhaps you may remember what it is like to be innocent; to have a relationship with the subtleties of life that only the heart can see; you may remember being in conversation with a butterfly, having hands lost in the moist textures of earth, gleefully touching wiggly worms, enchanted by the moon, stars and the eyes of passers by; you may remember laughing uncontrollably for no reason at all, care-freely covering yourself in mud, inhabiting your twisting, grinding body with abandon, and sipping tea with your imaginary friend; you may remember dancing up a storm with fairies and princes, skipping along pillows of whispering swirling clouds, and tumbling through leaves with an unbridled roar of delight
Perhaps you may remember the feeling of belonging to something bigger, more magical, more wondrous than the eyes can see.
Do you remember? You may remember the circumstances, but can you still feel the feeling? For most of us, sadly, we cannot. We have forgotten what it is like to feel the tides of the essential washing up against our buoyant hearts and minds.
The soulfulness of play has been lost, and therefore so too has the unique portal into our soul that play opens us to—the portal into the generative spaces between our busy thoughts and plans, the urgency of what we think matters, and the heavy load of curriculum we think kids should learn. We have lost touch with the deeper rhythms of mystery, the invisible that children point us back to a thousand ways a day. The essential is being paved over with the concrete, consensual, literal, measurable, fast-paced and amnestic world we think life is, the one we prepare children for more than ever before.
“In 1998, 31 percent of teachers believed their students should learn to read during the kindergarten year. That figure jumped to 80 percent by 2010.” ~ Mind/Shift
In longing we belong.
“Every child is born a naturalist. His eyes are, by nature, open to the glories of the stars, the beauty of the flowers, and the mystery of life.” ~ Ritu Ghatourey
The invisible has a purpose—to invoke the light of longing into our hearts so that the darkness of forgetfulness does not consume us in full. It is a longing to feel and know the unseen essential; to be in relationship with it; to express its whispering nuances into the world in the form of gifts translated into art, science, poetry, technology and more; and to find meaning and purpose in the process.
In longing, we belong. We feel our kinship with the essential that burns in our hearts, the trees, rivers, mountains, eagles, stars and eyes of the other. Life is lived as a child lives—in intimate relationship with community, nature and the cosmos.
In many rural land-based cultures and societies, often indigenous, youth are initiated through trials, ceremony and ritual into a deeper relationship with the unseen, mysterious nature of their soul. It is a right of passage between the unseen and seen, an acknowledgement of belonging to something much bigger than the temporal world. The elders plant and hold the stake of remembrance for the youth and community at large. The eternal tug of longing and the gifts within the soul are then birthed when ripe, and guided into a more outward stage of existence and purpose. Everyone benefits from the initiation. As each unique heart song is sung, members thrive in greater harmony with one another, nature and the whole.
Without this mentorship and conscious relationship with soul longing, teenagers are set on a dark lonely path disconnected from their environment, inner compass and heart song. The essential, the longing, is forgotten, and they travel unfed by it and lost. They stop be-longing.
This has become the norm, certainly in Euro-western cultures. Our communities are full of spiritually immature adults who are anxious, depressed, in denial, lonely, fighting, competing, and living and working with little to no sense of inner calling, heart-integrity, or social and emotional intelligence.
Integrity comes from the word integration, which means, nothing left out. When the depth of the ocean is denied—left out—we live out of integrity with the essential. Our reality becomes one of skimming the surface with another drink, game of pool at the pub, political spar, bout of gossip, corrupt business deal, and reality TV show. This becomes much more alluring than diving into and feeling the vast unknown below the surface of what we assume to be our life, and everyday living. Doing so would mean rocking, and potentially sinking our comfortable, well-traveled ship, challenging our psyche and the life built from separation.
The security of separation is ostensible, at best. Life eventually initiates us. No matter how firm our grip on the wheel is, or how well thought out our course may seem, the intelligence of the invisible eventually brings us a stormy relationship, a tidal wave of audits, an undercurrent of disease that brings us to our knees and drags us into the depth we have long forgotten. Here we feel the depth of our much-circumvented feelings, including the grief that comes with years of suppression and separation.
Ignorance only works so long. The baptism of unexpected initiation soon stirs the pot of convenience so the essential is tasted.
“It is not the easy or convenient life for which I search, but life lived to the edge of all that I may be.” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher
Play is the gestation period for the ideas, innovation and gifts our world needs.
Raising spiritually mature, openhearted youth and adults begins with simply letting children play. By respecting the soulfulness of play, we let it do its job of raising children in ways that we cannot.
Play, especially unstructured play, is an essential early stage of initiation. Slowly and mysteriously play nourishes and cultivates soul longing, tending to its subtle nudges and whispers, gradually forming inherent purpose and gifts, and readying them for birth when time. Its instinctual qualities of curiosity, wonder, openness, exploration, imagination and more stoke the fire of creativity and keep children dreaming their dreams alive, whisking their potential so that when cooked, they can serve and nourish their communities with their gifts.
“…dendrites, branches of nerves in the brain, grow more through associative (divergent) thinking – a pattern defined by tangents – than through linear or convergent thinking.” ~ Nina Wise, A Big New Free Happy Unusual Life
The need children have to move and think in unstructured, divergent ways, and in spacious environments, arises from an ancient impulse to freely explore and embody the vastness of the unbounded sea. The spontaneous spirals, cartwheels, gibberish, doodling, daydreaming, and songs, are an expression of the wild currents of life feeding their mind and body, poking, prodding, filling them with new life, stirring longing and creativity into a delicious soup.
“The more risks you allow your children to make, the better they learn to look after themselves.” ~ Roald Dahl
Children’s formative years are similar to those of a butterfly in metamorphosis. In the same way a butterfly pumps blood into its strengthening wings by pushing the boundaries of its chrysalis, children pump blood into their own wings by giving themselves fully to their play. Climbing along fences, balancing on tree branches, skipping across large boulders, and hanging upside down from monkey bars pushes the edges of possibility, and charges the mind and body with life energy—life blood—or Chi as the Chinese call it. Consistent, active, free play ensures that vital life force doesn’t get stuck—that it flows as it is meant to, and that it nourishes the ideas, innovation and gifts swirling and forming in the womb of imagination.
“Play is training for the unexpected.” ~ Marc Bekoff
Improvisation, and the non-attachment to linear movement, direction and outcome inherent in unstructured play, keeps the child open and responsive to the heartbeat of the soul. As the rhythm changes, children have the flexibility to adapt. They may walk, and then suddenly feel the impulse to hop, and then cartwheel, and end with a magnificent leap. They may desire to be a princess today and a fireman tomorrow. Mercurialness and unpredictability are the charming expressions of one whose heart echoes the rhythms of life, rather than the predictabilities of linear thought. Children are born living as pure expressions of wild soul.
Instinctually, through feeling, thought, word and action children naturally move with unseen intelligence, as unseen intelligence, versus working against it in separation consciousness. They are the breath of life, living, as some have said, closest to God. This kinship with the essential, this feeling of belonging, helps them to continue trusting what only the heart can see, the same way a mother trusts the hidden intelligence of her womb to raise her child.
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” ~ Lao Tzu
No one teaches a child to blink, walk, gurgle and cry. And how many children learn to speak multiple languages fluently by the age of five without a lesson plan? We breathe, our hair grows and hearts pump without our doing. In the same way a branch naturally bends towards sunlight, salmon know when to spawn, and a thousand starlings turn the same direction at once, inherently, life moves us as play moves children.
We don’t need to make life happen as much as we think. It already is happening. Our job is to join the parade and trust the intelligence at play that is the conductor of all things.
The purpose and limits of structure
“The trouble with over-structuring is that it discourages exploration.” ~ Jay Giedd, Neuroscientist, University of California
Unstructured play offers the most possibilities for growth because of its open and self-directed nature. The element of agency keeps the locus of control centered internally on soul and kindling desires within which supports children to cultivate intuition and more freely pursue areas of interest.
In the same way ceremony and ritual serves to connect us with the unseen, structure is meant to assist the gestation and expression of our gifts and talents; to provide the safe container and passage necessary to maximize the flow of life-blood between children and their soul. If you put a railing on a fifteen-story balcony, children (and adults) will move closer to the edge. They will explore more, learn more, grow more, and the fire of desire will have more space to breathe. Structure does well to invite nudges from the unseen.
But how many railings are being placed for children 10 feet in, 20 feet in, from the edge? How much are we making our limits their limits without even knowing it?
Our beliefs (the same ones that impede wonder) create the parameters of what’s possible for us, and children. They define the edges of our playground. We can only take children as far into the playground of life as we are willing to travel ourselves—as far as we are willing to wonder and play. Regularly questioning our beliefs is therefore vital in ensuring that the containers and passages that structure builds are wide and deep enough to allow life-blood to flow and the full potential of creative emergence to arise.
Elizabeth Licata reports, tripling recess time at Eagle Mountain Elementary in Fort Worth, Texas caused immediate positive results in kids: “…not only are the students paying better attention in class, they’re following directions better, attempting to learn more independently and solve problems on their own, and there have been fewer disciplinary issues.”
The belief that recess should be three times less was finally questioned. The school board, teachers and admin staff thought they knew best until through questioning—wondering—they realized they didn’t. The literal and metaphoric playground was expanded as the system dreamed beyond the limits of old thought.
So, who was the teacher and who was the student? Who was learning from whom?
A participant recently told me that a parent tells a child to put on a coat so the parent feels warm. This statement begs the question: Who is it for? “Stop being so silly!” “You need to grow up!” “That’s what you should be focusing on.” “It’s bad to put yourself first.” “Sit still and behave!” “This is what you need to study if you are going to make it!” Are these limits yours or theirs? Are you stating them so that they are safe and secure, or so you are? And more importantly, where do these beliefs come from? Chances are they were never yours in the first place, but rather handed down to you from a caregiver when young.
There was a time when you didn’t have them. You were naturally wild and felt a belonging with all that’s possible. But then unconsciously these tired beliefs became yours…and now theirs.
“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” ~ Peggy O’Mara
A teacher shared with me how chaotic her art class is, and how, when curious teachers poke their heads in, they are shocked by what they see and hear. Paper, paints, brushes are strewn all over the floor and tables, while children run amok in this expressive theatre of art shrieking joy and delight. On-looking teachers are horrified by the lack of order; but what they don’t see through their lenses of logic is the joy of learning within the chaos, and all the hidden essentials unstructured play cultivates. They don’t see the intelligence at play both in how learning is taking shape, and what is being learned.
Who is their need for structure / order for? Where does it come from?
A fire needs a fire pit, a container to burn bright in. Children need limits and boundaries. But so many of our systems, specifically education, demand children to be less wild than it serves them to be for the sake of fitting in, and becoming something they were never meant to be. Keep in mind who created our systems, and why?
“Our schools are, in a sense, factories, in which the raw materials – children – are to be shaped and fashioned into products… The specifications for manufacturing come from the demands of 20th century civilization, and it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down.” ~ Ellwood P. Cubberley, Dean of the Stanford University School of Education, 1898
Old heavy mindsets built by fear and logical reasoning shaped those systems, and still today, they continue to mold the behaviors of children in them.
It’s no wonder that we have a generation of kids who, increasingly, would rather succeed at fitting in than fail at standing out. Old systems fit kids with cookie-cutter, outdated mindsets and ideas that no longer work in, nor truly serve, the new emerging world.
“You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you.” ~ Isadora Duncan
Only by remembering, feeling and living the essential can we sense the delicate balance needed between structure and space, order and chaos, containment and wildness. To offer free wild space we must live with free wild space in our hearts and minds. This is difficult if we perceive life primarily from the physical eyes.
Intuition—the voice of the unseen sensed through body wisdom or the gut—is the heart-based intelligence required to perceive clearly and guide our hands. It must work in consort with the linear intellect if we are to nurture the creative spirit of children; otherwise, unwittingly, we kill their flame.
“One study compared the families of children who were rated among the most creative 5 percent in their school system with those who were not unusually creative. The parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules, like specific schedules for homework and bedtime. Parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule.” ~ How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off ~ Adam Grant, NY Times
The rise of fixation
“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
In a world driven more by rationality than intuition, space and flow are losing their rightful place in child development. Classrooms are cluttered with curriculum and a surplus of students (40 I heard in one kindergarten class); and kids are scheduled and schooled to the point of, as some teachers have told me, falling asleep at their desks.
On day one of a workshop I attended led by somatic psychotherapist Mariah Moser, the first thing she said was, “Connection precedes learning.” She then had us close our eyes and do a few activities that engaged the parasympathetic (calming) nervous system. We slowed down our breathing, grounded into our body and calmed our thoughts. In doing so, space was made for learning to land in the mind and body. We became present, open and engaged.
In Waldorf schools, first thing every morning the teacher meets and greets each student as they walk in the door, one at a time. The teacher does not offer a trite, “Hello, how’s it going?” Rather, she greets them uniquely by addressing something relating to their current life challenges and interests. For instance, she may ask, “How was your soccer game?” “How is your sister doing, is she feeling better?” By slowing down and connecting—or attaching, using more recent child development language—each child, the moment they walk in the door, feels as though they matter.
Yet, in our hustle and bustle Western world, how much space is made for children to connect inside and out—in school and in their lives? What kind of connection or relationship do children have with their teachers in our increasingly overcrowded classrooms, and with the overwhelming curriculum they never consented to? What kind of relationship do they have with their toys when the average Western child has over 150 of them and receives an additional 70 per year? How much of a connection do children have with their natural, spontaneous curiosity when they are regularly whisked off to yet another piano lesson, soccer practice, or drowned in a swamp of homework? How much of a connection do children have with the soft stirrings of their soul when more information is put into them than pulled out?
Where is the room in this cluttered existence for children to think for themselves, travel the riches of their imagination and dream ideas yet to be born into the world? Where is there room to roam freely outdoors, where the wild spaces of meadows, lakes, and beaches speak a language that tenderizes the indurated mind and body; where they can rub against soft dangles of lichen, dig up clams in ocean banks, balance on moss-coated logs, while gathering thoughts, memories, scrapes and bruises?
“Children don’t need more things. The best toys a child can have is a parent who gets down on the floor and plays with them.” ~ Anonymous
A cluttered mind seeks more clutter. Like a hoarder, it is addicted to filling its over-flowing bucket thinking more is better; and it believes that somehow more will soothe the overwhelm that comes from having a hyper-engaged body, mind and sympathetic (arousal and mobilization) nervous system. The more-mindset and imbalanced nervous system creates health challenges such as stress and disease, and is in part to blame for the rapid of rise of anxiety and depression amongst kids and adults, as well as the unethical practices of overmedication.
An over-stimulated mind ridden with speed and excess, and spoiled by choice, is also prone to boredom when presented with a spacious, not so adrenalizing alternative, such as being in nature. How can a towering jade waterfall compete with YouTube? Besides, you can see the waterfall with one click of the finger.
Addiction to Facebook, and technology as a whole, is a symptom of a mind on over-drive. Technology has now become the new cigarette for adults and kids, their lifeline to sanity. Kids used to self-soothe by making mud pies and forts, or roughhousing down grass hills. Now, not only do they cling to their screens up to 11 hours a day, as some studies suggest, but parents hand it to them to keep their sympathetic nervous system in check.
According to a study published in Pediatrics in May 2007, three-month-old infants are now watching two hours of television per day.
Yet, what happens when kids go to a cluttered school where screens must be tucked away in backpacks, their coping mechanism gone? Without their “fix”, children become even more anxious, dreaming of Angry Birds or their Messenger app in the same way an adult fantasizes a smoke.
In 2010, The Guardian reported, “In the United Kingdom, studies have shown that the ‘roaming radius’ for children from home has shrunk by 90% in 30 years.” In part due to media induced “stranger-danger”, busy, unavailable parents in dual income households who put kids in after-school programs, and technology, we are seeing a dramatic drop in the number of children in backyards and neighborhood streets, and a rapid rise in indoor fixation and boredom. The traveling distance through our neighborhoods is shrinking at such an alarming rate that one study reported that children worldwide now spend on average half the amount of time (one hour) outdoors in comparison to prisoners (two hours). This is a vast change from when I grew up and my parents had to drag me home for dinner from my street hockey, tree climbing, and general mischief.
Kids in the US are now being diagnosed with Direct Attention Fatigue from too much screen time and study. And in China, children have developed what is appropriately called Myopia, which is caused from too much focused attention. Kids see objects up close clearly, but ones far away are blurry. In both cases, kids are unable to retain what psychology researcher Suzanne Gaskings calls “open attention”, which is a soft, rested, yet alert state, that has similarities to, as Gaskings says, mindfulness.
As reported in this article, and originally researched by the Creativity Research Journal in 2014, there is a relationship between time spent in structured activities when young and our emerging creativity when older. Author Matthew Bowers says that, “…(adults) scoring in the ‘above-average’ creativity bracket reported spending 15% of their total childhood leisure time playing informal sports versus 13% playing organized sports. The participants with ‘below-average’ creativity, on the other hand, spent only 10% of their childhood leisure time playing informal sports versus 22% in organized sports.”
It’s not that we shouldn’t be playing on soccer teams or participating in dance classes; we are speaking about having a healthy balance. As stated in this study, just two hours per week of informal, less structured activities boosted children’s creativity to above-average levels. There they awoke self-governance and tended the spaciousness of their imaginings.
There go the grown-ups
To the office, to the store
Subway crush, traffic rush.
Don’t grow up any more.
It takes a lot of SLOW
~ Eve Merriam
All of this is a symptom of a society that has forgotten how to slow down, and be quiet, empty and alone; to belong in nature, in spaciousness, touching that which lies between the clutter of daily existence, where the voice of the heart, and other worlds, are heard.
It’s much harder to engage and educate the heart and invoke the essential in a cluttered classroom and life. There must be space between the teacher’s words, learning outcomes and in the minds of children if the heart is to be heard and acted upon. Space must be made for the winds of imagination, exploration and intuition to blow for the creative fire to breathe and take shape. Otherwise, kids will eventually disassociate from their soul longing, and imagination will concretize, senses will calcify, and one’s inner light will dim. The rhythmic pulse of life-blood from the soul to the child will congest and clot. Gestation, attention, curiosity, creativity, health and more will suffer.
“Solitude is the soil in which genius is planted.” ~ Mike Norton
Richard Louv explains in his inspiring book, Last Child in the Woods, that the much-needed antidote for Direct Attention Fatigue is a good dose of fantasy (spaciousness of mind)—or wonder, as I might call it—as well as outdoor time, especially in nature where we connect with birds, rivers and trees (spaciousness of the senses). Both keep us in conscious relationship with the informing invisible and the sparks of our creative fire. They support a balanced flow between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, a natural and necessary rhythm for healing and health. And they keep us grounded, engaged with the body, where we feel what wants to be felt, and can sense the creative whispers of the soul.
Movement and creativity
“Watching a child makes it obvious that the development of his mind comes through his movements.” ~ Maria Montessori
Einstein said, “Innovation is not the product of logical thought, although the result is tied to logical structure.” Logic serves to anchor creativity into the concrete world, to make it tangible by building structures and systems, but is not the source of its fire. Instead, as stated already, it is the soul that burns flames of fanciful dreams, and sparks effervescent, spontaneous guiding insight. And it is in the body—the hearth, the temple of innovation—that we feel them.
Movement, in particular, stirs the soul’s dreams awake. My poems have been inspired on dance floors, and songs have been dreamt up on hikes. For this reason, I often bring a pen and notebook to my dance classes and on camping trips. At any moment, sparks could fly. It’s not uncommon for my dance partners to suddenly see me leaning against the mirrored wall, frantically putting pen to paper.
The inspiration for my book, Let the Fire Burn, came when I took a break from my cluttered computer mind and went for a walk. While stretching my stiff desk legs and enjoying Spring’s striking Cherry Blossoms hemming the sidewalks, a surprise flash of insight gripped me—the idea of letting the fire burn in children as a metaphoric vision for child development, an idea I had never considered before. This insight, this energetic surge of information as it was felt, filled my cells instantly. More so, the first few lines of the book came to me as well. It all happened in one timeless moment.
I knew my soul was speaking, for I did not think the words or idea up. It was a moment beyond thought having no foreshadowing; a spontaneous communication with the invisible that came by resting my attention and entering my body. Spaciousness and movement engaged the mystery.
“Cease trying to work everything out with your minds. It will get you nowhere. Live by intuition and inspiration and let your whole life be Revelation.” ~ Eileen Caddy
When Dan Brown, bestselling author of the Da Vinci Code, has writers block, he hangs himself upside down on a piece of gym equipment, like a child hangs from a tree. As reported in this article, the inversion therapy, as called by some, helps him shape shift out of fixation so he can hear the quiet intelligence of the unseen murmurings; so life-blood can flow more easily. He was reported as saying, “It does help. You’ve just got to relax and let go. The more you do it the more you let go. And then soon it’s just, wow.” Creativity finds him!
One of the activities that I have my Remembering to Play participants engage in is to, in standing groups of around four, brainstorm ideas for a magical house. Each person contributes one idea at a time, and round and round they go. I know from experience how quickly people get stuck—stuck in their heads. What helps open their imagination is to have them move their bodies—to sway as a child would, swishing their arms around, bending knees, rocking their heads, anything that will keep them neck down. The other formula I have is for their teammates to sprinkle make-believe magical fairy dust on their head. As soon as one gets stuck, the others raise their hands, rub their divining fingers together, and invoke their imagination. It is always fun to see how fast this little bit of magic works. The fixated individual starts laughing, and loosening the need-to-be-right-mind, and then, pop, the idea comes.
As Dan Brown demonstrates, often the moment we stop trying to figure something out—stop fixating—the answer finds us. That lost thought, sought after dream, when given up on, lands in our lap. We let go and let in. Space is made in our controlling minds to drop into our body and simply allow the unseen to do the work—a skill it would behoove adults to learn from children.
The essential eagerly seeks to fill empty space. Our job is not to find the mystery, but to let it find us—to make room for it. We do this by resting our senses, unraveling our discursive thoughts and de-cluttering our lives.
Unstructured play keeps children in this open state of allowance and attunement with mystery. It creates the fertile ground to, using Robert Heinlein’s word, grok the slow mysterious burn of desire. Take away play too soon, and ideas are gathered less from body wisdom and prescribed more from the limits of linear intellect. The rational mind hijacks the formative early years instead of allowing for organic creative emergence rooted in intuition.
The great artists of our world, the Michelangelo’s and Mozart’s, for instance, did not think up their creations, but rather opened to them through body-based inspiration. Inspiration—in-spirit—is infinitely more powerful and imaginative than the cluttered linearity of logic that dominates our mind. That is because it is rooted in the ineffable essential. It points us to what the thinking mind has no way of knowing.
Visit Michelangelo’s complex contributions to St. Peter’s Basilica or hear the genius compositions of Mozart (created by age five nonetheless) and tell me they were manifested by thought alone. Genius comes from somewhere, and it’s not the brain. There is something larger at play here.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” ~ Albert Einstein
Without attunement to the intelligence of the invisible, ideas flow less organically, and can feel as though they are worked on. We grind them out instead of opening to them. The heavy machinery of the rational mind chugs and smokes away much harder than it needs to. It does it alone, separate from the greater intelligence flowing into fingers and tongues along the creative path. This is what distinguishes work from play—from letting logic lead versus intuition.
It’s no coincidence that Albert Einstein played the violin religiously since childhood. He was greatly influenced by intuition, play, and specifically music. He said, “The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition.” He also said, “The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract thinking.”
Ideas and innovation serve our planet when they carry the aroma of the essential, the soulful soil that play intrinsically tends to and from which our gifts grow. This is the quality of contributions our Earth needs now; not ones manufactured from the tired and heavy mechanisms of the linear mind, but rather ones that have life-blood flowing through them, and are fed by, and consider, the greater whole.
Form must now arise from the formless if our world is to have a chance. And letting kids play is an essential step towards creating a better future.
“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.” ~ Friedrich Froebel
Let play be the teacher.
“For a small child there is no division between playing and learning; between the things he or she does ‘just for fun’ and things that are ‘educational.’ The child learns while living and any part of living that is enjoyable is also play.” ~ Penelope Leach
In the Reggio Emilia approach to education, the classroom, or environment, is considered the “third teacher”. Open, uncluttered space filled with beauty, pastel earth tones and natural light (and no plastic) inspires and creates a container for learning and development.
What if we saw play as being a teacher as well?
What if play is a faithful guardian that protects the heart; a fervent best friend that offers companionship; a gentle guide that points the way; an inspiring muse that ignites dreams; a passionate chef who stirs imagination; and a skilled midwife that births gifts?
What if the soulfulness of play is the soil from which a child grows? Can we let her flower naturally, organically and in her own timing? Can we trust the immense, innate, and immeasurable wisdom of play to raise a child in ways we can never imagine?
“A study from Stanford University shows that Danish kids who postponed kindergarten for up to one year showed dramatically higher levels of self-control, and reduced inattention and hyperactivity by 73% for an average child at age 11.”
If we can see play as a powerful, patient, wise and loving teacher that knows what we have no way of knowing, then we can more easily pull back our controls and make room for its nuanced guidance; we can trust the nutrients, minerals and overall intelligence of the soulful soil so the essential can flower magnificently into the heart, mind and body of the child, and into the world; we can trust in the same way an expecting mother trusts her body intelligence and a farmer trusts his land.
Trust requires us to feel the depth of the forgotten child that still resides within, including our grief from having lost our innocence, as well as the gardens of joy and beauty that lie beyond our pain. And it asks us to have the courage to wonder beyond the literal and concrete our tired and conditioned eyes are limited to so that we may finally forgo our obsession with assessing, testing, reporting and structure as a whole; so that we can stand in uncertainty a little bit more, fluid, open, grounded in the essential, dancing with children in wild spaces.
A wise woman once told me many years ago that the more I know the more I will realize I don’t know. These words remind me to remain humble, trusting, and in wonder, and to remember to rest in the soulful spaces longing calls us back to.
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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults