What do you think of when you hear the word play?

I get an immediate visual hit of kids jumping rope and blowing bubbles. I also get seriously nostalgic for those activities. If I take a minute to stop and let myself remember what comes to me is this incredible lightness of freedom. Running was so easy back then. There was something weightless about those games, as if gravity wasn’t working as hard to hold me down and I could almost take flight the way I did in my dreams.

Adult Play for Creative Personalities

Adult play looks very different to me, mostly taking the form of time to read a good book, learning how to paint with water colors, maybe playing a word game with friends, but it still comes with a sense of lightness and freedom.

Play is defined as “an activity for pleasure or recreation that has no serious purpose,” and a lot of us, as adults, interpret that to mean it’s frivolous, or a luxury. Sure, it’s nice when life permits, and it’s probably important for kids, but not something we make time for in our busy schedules.

I think we’re mistaken in that. I believe play is essential for mental, physical, and creative health. For kids, play is how they process the world, how they learn and make sense of things. For adults, play can do the same, but it also provides a way to decrease stress and bond with other human beings.

And for creative personalities, play is pure life blood.

Play helps keep our ideas fresh by providing an ever ready source of inspiration. It keeps us from taking ourselves and our art so seriously that we get frozen and avoidant and blocked. Play saves us from becoming bored and repetitive. It gives us access to our subconscious. It renews and refreshes our souls, helping us stay young and vibrant.

Almost all creativity involves purposeful play. ~Abraham Maslow

Albert Einstein embraced creative play, as did a number of other bright minds like Edison, Picasso, and da Vinci. Today I want to share ideas from two of my favorite modern day creativity gurus, Julia Cameron and Jill Badonsky, both of whom have a lot to say about the value of play.

Bea Silly, the Kaizen-Muse of Play

Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching founder Jill Badonsky found play to be so important to the creative process and creative personalities that she created a modern day muse to embody its essence. In her book Nine Modern Day Muses (and a Bodyguard) she presents nine re-imagined muses, each one conveying an important principle of creativity. One of these is Bea Silly, the muse of play, laughter, and dance.

Badonsky suggests that we summon Bea Silly to help us “lighten up, release rigid thinking, and remember how to make…creative expression fun.” She also suggests a childlike, playful approach to working with resistance. Sometimes our inner child gets fed up and resentful of all of the hard work it’s compelled to do, and starts getting in the way of the creative process.

Allowing for play time helps to dispel that resistance. It helps to break down perfectionism paralysis. It also helps to avoid that ever-dreaded state of burn out. Also, it’s fun! Life is too short to be serious all of the time.

One of Badonsky’s favorite problem solving questions is this one: “What would make this more fun?” It’s amazing how that one small question changes things up.

Julia Cameron and the Artist Date

In her well known book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron teaches the importance of refilling the creative well to creative personalities. “When we create,” she says, “we draw from this well of insight and ideas, and we need to be alert to its health so we don’t deplete it.”

Depletion is not a pretty thing. Have you ever suffered through a dry spell, where it felt like you would never have a good idea again? I have.

For me, burnout is a terrible, sick feeling of dread and hopelessness.

Usually, the remedy or deterrent for any terrible, sick feeling is unpleasant and medicinal. In this case, the solution isn’t castor oil or painful surgery, but something pleasurable and fun! I ask you, how often does that happen in this world? It’s as if the cure for cancer turned out to be chocolate or ice cream.

Cameron advocates that creative personalities should go on a weekly play date:

“The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.”

There is a wealth of awesome on her website here, where you can watch a video clip of Julia talking about the artist date.

Play and Your Unique Creative Process

I love the idea of play. I embrace its importance.

If you had asked me last week if I take time for play, my answer would have been a resounding, “Of course! Play is awesome.” But when I started looking at my life a little more closely in light of our focus on play this month, I realized a shocking truth.

I rarely play.

This isn’t something I want to admit, because I swore once upon a time that this wasn’t going to happen to me. I was never going to be a serious, driven adult. No, sir. Not me. And yet, here I am.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m always serious and never have fun. I laugh a lot.  I love writing and coaching and yoga and blogging and so many of the things I get to do. They are fun for me. But they aren’t exactly play. They are things I GET to do, rather than HAVE to do, but there are consequences if I don’t get them done. People are counting on me. I have deadlines.

When was the last time I took myself on an artist date? When was the last time I danced alone in the house, or wrote a poem just for the fun of it, or scribbled or painted or even played the piano?

It’s been awhile. It’s even been a couple of weeks since I read a book just for the fun of it. Now I’m asking myself, “where can I find small spaces in my day for play?”  In fact, I took out my planner just now and scheduled myself for an artist date.

What about you? Do you play on a regular basis or hardly at all? Are you stuck in denial, believing you are making time for play when that wasn’t the case? Ask yourself, “what would be fun?”

And now – who is ready to commit to scheduling an Artist Date? We’d love to hear both your intentions and experiences!