"Educators are worried that you need that content for the exams that you're going to take, but what's more important is that you should want to learn. What's more important is for you to know how to find that information if you need it. What's more important is for you to learn how to problem solve and use that information." ~ Adele Diamond
I don’t want to foster broken bones and concussions and that sort of thing in kids, but an inherent part of being playful is taking risks. What you don't want to do is have the risks be excessive. And the natural history of play in the world, both animal and human, is that persistent play increases the risk of death and damage while it's taking place, but it appears to be absolutely necessary for the well-being and the future of the species.
So it's a conundrum. But to remove all risk from kids' play is to not allow them the spontaneity from within to develop themselves. It's a judgment call on the part of parents. And this is where I have some beef with the media — in that "if it bleeds, it leads" — the perceptions of the levels of violence and risk in our culture are really beyond what the actual risks are, so that a responsible parent feels they can't let their kid be out on the streets in the afternoon and that sort of thing...
I think it's safer for the person who is a player to take a few hard knocks and maybe have a fracture in childhood, than it is to insulate them from the possibility of that. I think that that constricts their psyches and their futures much more.
Any parent with a young child — say a child over three but under 12 — if you just observe them, and don't try and direct them, and watch what it is they like to do in play, and get some sense of how their temperament intermixes with their play desires, you often will see a key to their innate talents. And if those talents are given fairly free reign, if you allow those innate talents to build upon themselves and the environment is favorable enough so that it supports that...I think that then you see that there is a union between self and talent.
And that this is nature's way of sort of saying this is who you are and what you are. And I'm sure if you go back and think about your children or yourself and go back to your earliest emotion-laden, visual and visceral memories of what really gave you joy, you'll have some sense of what was natural for you and where your talents lie. I think it’s pretty important.
Watch what happens when people take an unexpected break in their day.
All making is an act of attention and attention is an act of recognition and recognition is the something happening that is thought itself.
~ Ann Hamilton
At the Park
by Matthew Dyer
Two young girls at the park
just sang The Hallway Song to me
and taught me how to dance
to Mariah Carey.
They told me
I couldn't flip my hair
because I'm a boy
(so I flipped my hair),
and then they did cartwheels.
Also, they were really excited
to tell me about
their Summer Reading Program books,
and aghast that my library doesn't have a kid's area.
"Why would you even tell us about that kind of library?!"
My "Grandma Matt" instincts kicked in
when they did cartwheels on the concrete.
"Shouldn't you do that on the grass?"
The literature on creativity is full of tales of breakthrough experiences. These moments come when you let go of some impediment or fears, and boom—in whooshes the muse. You feel clarity, power, freedom, as something unforeseeable jumps out of you. The literature of Zen, on which I have drawn heavily because of its deep penetration of the breakthrough experience, abounds with accounts of kensho and satori—moments of illumination and moments of total change of heart. There come points in your life when you simply kick the door open. But there is no ultimate breakthrough; what we find in the development of a creative life is an open-ended series of provisional breakthroughs. In this journey there is no endpoint, because it is the journey into the soul.
In my own life, music taught me to listen, not just to sound but to who I am. I discovered the relevance of our many mystical or esoteric traditions to the practical life of art making. “Mysticism” does not refer to cloudy belief systems or to hocus-pocus; it refers to direct and personal spiritual experience, as distinct from organized religion in which one is expected to believe secondhand experiences passed on in sacred books or by teachers or authorities. It is the mystics who bring creativity into religion. The mystic or visionary attitude expands and concretizes art, science, and daily life as well. Do I believe what “the Man” tells me, or am I going to try things out for myself and see what’s really true for me?
Creativity is a harmony of opposite tensions, as in lila or divine play. As we ride through the flux of our own creative processes, we hold onto both poles. If we let go of play, our work becomes ponderous and stiff. If we let go of the sacred, our work loses its connection to the ground on which we live.
Knowledge of the creative process cannot substitute for creativity, but it can save us from giving up on creativity when the challenges seem too intimidating and free play seems blocked. If we know that our inevitable setbacks and frustrations are phases of the natural cycle of creative processes, if we know that our obstacles can become our ornaments, we can persevere and bring our desires to fruition. Such perseverance can be a real test, but there are ways through, there are guideposts. And the struggle, which is guaranteed to take a lifetime, is worth it. It is a struggle that generates incredible pleasure and joy. Every attempt we make is imperfect; yet each one of those imperfect attempts is an occasion for a delight unlike anything else on earth.
When he was very young, he waved his arms, gnashed the teeth of his massive jaws, and tromped around the house so that the dishes trembled in the china cabinet. “Oh, for goodness sake,” his mother said. “You are not a dinosaur! You are a human being!” Since he was not a dinosaur, he thought for a time that he might be a pirate. “Seriously,” his father said at some point, “what do you want to be?” A fireman, then. Or a policeman. Or a soldier. Some kind of hero.
But in high school they gave him tests and told him he was very good with numbers. Perhaps he would like to be a math teacher? That was respectable. Or a tax accountant? He could make a lot of money doing that. It seemed a good idea to make money, what with falling in love and thinking about raising a family. So he was a tax accountant, even though he sometimes regretted that it made him, well, small. And he felt even smaller when he was no longer a tax accountant, but a retired tax accountant. Still worse, a retired tax accountant who forgot things. He forgot to take the garbage to the curb, forgot to take his pill, forgot to turn his hearing aid back on. Every day it seemed he had forgotten more things, important things, like which of his children lived in San Francisco and which of his children were married or divorced.
Then one day when he was out for a walk by the lake, he forgot what his mother had told him. He forgot that he was not a dinosaur. He stood blinking his dinosaur eyes in the bright sunlight, feeling the familiar warmth on his dinosaur skin, watching dragonflies flitting among the horsetails at the water’s edge.
Cognitive develpmental neuroscientist Adele Diamond, speaking with Krista Tippett from “Learning, Doing, Being: A New Science of Education,” Speaking of Faith, November 19, 2009:
My husband who came with me to Dharamsala said, "If you're going to give [the Dalai Lama] a present, I want to give him a present, too." He wanted to give him a kite because he didn't think the Dalai Lama got to spend enough time playing.
And so then he found online that he could get a package of ten plain, undecorated kites very inexpensively. He asked me if I could find classes of school children to decorate them. I contacted a colleague, Kim Schonert-Reichl, and she helped me find a class of children with developmental disorders, many of them ADHD, who were either not on medication or on reduced medication because they were doing mindfulness.
They had heard of the Dalai Lama, and they were very excited to be decorating these kites. And there were two children per kite. On one side, they did self portraits, so it looked like a Picasso because half of the kite is one child's face and half of the kite is the other child's face.
My husband brings all these to Dharamsala and we get a private audience with His Holiness and we had the wisdom not to bring all the kites with us to the audience because the Dalai Lama said thank you but it was very clear he wasn't going to fly any kites; he's was going to put them in a drawer.
After that we went to visit Matthieu Ricard at Katmandu, where he has a Tibetan monastery. And he has many humanitarian projects in connection with that and one of them are schools for poor children. Any background, doesn't matter, religious or ethnic. They call it Bamboo Schools because the buildings are all made out of bamboo. So we went to these bamboo schools and we brought the rest of the kites and we gave them to the children there.
They had never flown kites before, and they were so happy to be flying these kites. And Matthieu was so happy to see the children so happy. And we took photos and videos and I brought them back to the class in Vancouver to the children who had been studying mindfulness and I showed them the pictures and they were so happy to see how happy they had made the other children.
Previous posts related to other topics from this interview:
“We often think about play as relaxing and doing what you want to do. Maybe it’s an American thing: We work really hard, and then we go on vacation and have fun. But in fact, very few truly pleasurable moments come from complete hedonism. What Tools of the Mind does — and maybe what we all need to do — is to blur the line a bit between what is work and what is play. Just because something is effortful and difficult and involves some amount of constraint doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.”