“Open to your childlike spirit by creating experiences that infuse awe, wonder, and delight in your everyday life.” ~ A Lady Who Means Well and Gives Free Advice on the Internet
I see variations of this advice all the time, usually on blogs that talk about creativity without being terribly creative. I think Jesus even said something in that vein, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and do not hinder them for to such belong the Kingdom of Heaven… (The “suffer” part slays me).” I bet you’ve heard that sermon. I mean, “be childlike, play, have fun…” What’s not to like, especially for arty types who are already suspected of indulging in such decadent ego states? Shouldn’t it go without saying that childhood represents all that’s good and wonderful in life? How could anyone question the righteousness of all those little baby spirits?
Hold my beer.
The theory goes that creativity rests in untapped reservoirs just waiting to burst forth in the childhood ego state. Freud called it “Id.” As we confront the world, this natural child ego state gets repressed and bottled up. (Grown-ups call this “socialization.”) Creative types are the ones who can “play” by summonsing those child ego states into adulthood. Artists like Picasso are offered as prime examples of this kind of creative play, like the joy a child gets from finger-painting. Sounds like fun, huh? “Open to your childlike spirit… awe, wonder and delight in your everyday life…” Just make that your mantra first thing every morning and life will be grand.
“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”
I guess the thing that bothers me about this “advice” is that it is just so damned glib. It shows a lack of understanding and sensitivity. Lo, a new commandment I give unto you: don’t go telling anybody what to do with their internal emotional states before you get to know them. You’re thinking sunshine and roses, but you may be plunging that other person into the deepest pit of hell.If you want to compassionately advise people, you must listen to them first.
An example: I had dangerous asthma when I was a child, starting when I was around six and continuing into my mid-teens. This involved things like awakening in the night, alone in the darkness, unable to breathe. This was followed by a frantic race to the hospital to get epinephrine injections – the only immediate relief for that kind of attack that was known at the time. The worst part of it was seeing the fear in my parents’ faces, and knowing that this was indeed dangerous. I had a pretty good childhood on balances, but if you want to take me back to my childhood, it’s going to get scary.
Another example: I worked for a while in a children’s forensic psychiatry unit. The chaplains at the hospital made a big deal of having worship services on Sunday for the kids. This would be followed predictably by half of the girls in their unit going nuts on Sunday afternoon. The chaplains thought their glowing love talk would be a great comfort. It took us a while to figure it out, but we did. The girls having the episodes almost without exception had been molested by a male relative, often their father, so when the chaplains solemnly intoned, “Our Father who art in heaven…” the girls were being triggered by their terrestrial male kin. Not everyone had a great childhood.
Most of the creative people I know personally do what they do because they enjoy the work; they are good at what they do, and they can feed themselves by doing it. They are professionals and get the job done ahead of schedule and under budget. There is too much competition to mess around. Pros may have their playful moments, but their ability to work doesn’t depend on their ego state or magical powers bestowed upon them at birth by a benevolent universe.
“People always told me that my natural ability and good eyesight were the reasons for my success as a hitter. They never talk about the practice, practice, practice.” – Ted Williams
I return to our friend, Picasso. Picasso only achieved the cubist surreal style for which he is famous after years of dedicated study and practice. He knew everyone in Europe. He was so well known in his own time that he could pay for meals in restaurants with just a signed sketch. The guy had advanced social and interpersonal skills. He was the consummate professional. He worked like few artists ever have and was enormously prolific. We achieve that kind of proficiency in life through experience and effort, characteristics not typical of children or child-like ego states. Certainly, Picasso could “play” and he made some goofy photos, but I suspect that much of Picasso’s “playfulness” was a sort of theater, carefully crafted to produce the desired effect. Did he have fun with his work? I would guess he did, but to portray him as an overgrown infant amusing himself in a sandbox does a disservice to the fierce dedication he actually possessed.
“It’s all right, Ma. I’m only bleeding.”
A great myth contains a grain of truth. Bob Dylan has written wonderful songs about dire circumstances but he peppers them with jokes and wise cracks. Dylan engages in real playfulness in much of his music. Creatives work differently than most people; we aren’t clock punchers. We’re never really “off.” We’re never just putting in the time in the way many workers do. We seem to carry our whole karma around all the time, and perhaps our insides are more connected to our outsides than other folk. While there is an element of play in the creative process, we should be careful not to jump to conclusions and give psychological constructs more reality than they deserve. A lot of great art emerges from soul-crushing pain and suffering – rainbows and unicorns are not required.
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
Manipulation of our own moods and feelings carries risks because we cannot be objective about ourselves. “The doctor who treats herself has a fool for a patient.” If we manipulate our feelings to get a particular state of mind, are we not closing the door to our true selves who, at any given moment, may feel happy, sad, grown-up or childlike? Why not just pop a pill that will sweeten our mood? Do I have to get back into my six-year-old brain in order to have fun or create something? Perhaps our soul-spirit-psyche has something to tell us that is far outside of “awe, wonder, and delight.”*
I would suggest that a better approach would be to develop strategies designed to improve our listening to our own souls and to those around us. It won’t always “feel good” but it will get us closer to the truth, personal authenticity and a constructive creativity.
“Oh, never mind.” ~ A Lady Who Means Well and Gives Free Advice on the Internet
*Note: If you are consistently depressed, feel bad or listless most of the time, having suicidal thoughts and find yourself unable to enjoy life, you may be depressed or suffering from a chemical imbalance. Also, if you have been deeply hurt by life’s events, you should seek the help of a doctor or mental health professional. These issues are not generally solved just by using positive affirmations. There is no shame in asking for help.