Organizing Your Emotional Space to Get More Time to Play
I was very inspired when I read my daughter’s blog about sorting beans with Olee, our grandson the other day. See http://hoogliart.wordpress.com. I think Maria Montessori was one of the first educator’s to see how organization of space really gives children a great deal of freedom to play and explore. Yesterday, I had the great opportunity to work together with a number of my colleagues to apply her teachings. What happened was quite incredible!
Being a product of the 60s you can imagine that I might have some difficulties conceptualizing how play and creativity can work together with order and control. The 60s were instrumental in bringing out the evils of leadership by control and self interest so for many people of our era, when we think of conrolling an environment, we think of people who had the wrong motives. Organization for accumulation of selfish desires still may be a huge reality in the world, but yesterday it finally clicked for me why order is so important when you are doing something for the right reasons.
The event that we planned was a swim meet for students from grades 2-5. We had four hours, two two-hour sessions to complete 110 swimming races. What was incredible to me at day’s end was that we finished each session 20 minutes early. That is two groups of 160 swimmers each. You can do the math, but however you calculate, that is a lot of play in a short period of time. When I think of about it, it was all about the organization of space. Military order paled to us yesterday.
We planned where students had to sit while they were waiting for races to be called, where they had to sit after their races were called, which lane they were to swim in, and where they were to go when they finished each race. The adults all had a program with the list of all races and lane assignments, the volunteers all had written instructions of what to do at their jobs, and well if you have ever done a swim meet or track meet, you know that it takes a lot of people and organization. Because of the organization all the athletes had to do was to focus on their play, the swimming. The heat numbers were written on their arms so all they had to do was listen for their heat, go to the marshaling area, and then jump in the pool and swim. They were absolutely wild with enthusiasm and joy.
The results: Every child in the school participated in at least one to four races and everyone received at least one ribbon. It was magical. We even had to take a 10 minute break in the 2nd session because of thunder and a small amount of rain, but still we finished 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
The planning group was extraordinary. Everyone worked together with no self interest, just the joy of doing great work. So a day later I am thinking about the excuse that I have already mentioned previously in other posts, that people say that they don’t have time to play and now after yesterday, I am certain that the issue is not about time but the fear of being in the play space.
Unlike most children who can’t be held back from play, many adults seem to be blocked when it comes to participating in play. For them it is emotional. The underlying emotion that inhibits play the most is the fear of being criticized. Children are immune to its deadly effects for a time mainly because they are around other children who love to play, but gradually they drink in its venom especially when other expectations in their lives like academics are raised until the joy of play is sapped right out of them.
The key for me in recapturing the joy of play of childhood is the ability to organize the emotional space in my life, to bring order to my emotions so that my positive energy can shine through. Criticism is the great epidemic of our time, far more deadly than any pandemic the scientists may predict because it kills a person soul and their bodies. It is so commonplace that it is even often regarded as a virtue, but it kills nonetheless.
What is the vaccine that will get adults back in the pool and into play? It is simple. Find something positive about yourself and others and say it. This changes everything. You just let go of the negative thoughts that come in by dealing with them on your own in your meditation or with the help of others, but you don’t express them in an aggressive way outward. When you recognize positive things that are happening, you express them outwardly. This has the effect of making play very inviting. Then people can experiment and make all kinds of mistakes and the great learning and fun can happen.