The Process of Play
Have you ever been surrounded by people and yet felt completely alone? Have you ever been on the train, at work, at a restaurant where everyone had their heads buried in a device, their ear buds in their ears, or their heads buried in a laptop? The sound of silence can almost be deafening. And I’m guilty of all of it.
While technology has the ability to bring the world to us, what is happening to the world that surrounds us? In real life, in real time. Right now, we’re together, but alone. This need for human connection, sharing, and experiencing hasn’t changed, but the way we do it has. And while there are so many upsides to new communication and technology, the downsides can eat at our very souls.
We might work with a team, but maybe remote. Or maybe you sit next to someone, but their headphones are on, and emails are exchanged instead of a face to face conversation. Tone, humor, and personality are often lost as we use the keys of a device to express ourselves instead of our voices.
Relationships suffer because we think multi-tasking means we’re working harder. But the truth is, our brain can only have one thought a time. Switching on and off isn’t working smarter, it’s just giving the appearance that we are.
Over the years I’ve seen how my own work has changed as a creative. I’ve gone from paste up and sketching, to presenting concepts that look finished. Expectations are higher while our resources are taping out. We’re working faster, more, and with boundaries between our work and personal lives constantly blurring.
But what happens when we stop? Not for long, but for long enough. To get off the phones, get off the Internet, and give ourselves some time. To make. To connect. To see things not through the filter of social media, but through the filter of just being social.
A couple of years ago I was working on my design thesis when I started looking at how I’ve lost the concept of play. How I was limiting my creative work because I was so focused on the outcomes. I wasn’t creating to be creative, I was creating to work. Or worse, I was creating to “share” or for the “likes”.
And so I started making. With whatever was around me. With materials that were found in nature, and with objects that I loved. That had meaning. Stories. And from there, a whole new world started to open for me. I started to look at things I saw every day with an entirely new set of eyes. I started to look at all the details that I somehow missed. And I turned off my phone. There was quiet. Not just in my surroundings, but in my mind. I had discovered a sense of play, of fun, and also a little inner peace.
What I had learned was that I had discovered something very old. It’s called a mandala, and they’re shapes that are made up of sacred geometry as the foundation. Mandalasare a spiritual and ritual symbol found in many cultures, employed for focusing the attention of practitioners as a spiritual guidance tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation. I was making them with pen, ink, brushes, and whatever I could get my hands on. But what changed for me was when I started using three dimensional materials. Especially organic materials.
The colors found in nature, the textures, and the unexpected layers of a single flower became a source for unlimited potential. De-constructing and layering of multiple materials I would find on a hike led to an almost childlike discovery of things that I would normally walk past. I found myself slowing down and observing. Of wanting to touch and smell and know about the new things I was constantly discovering.
And the curiosity. It was endless. Not just in the making, but in the practice of meditation and mindfulness. Of what it means to be more aware. Once you open that door, it’s hard to close it.
I learned that it wasn’t just the making of something that felt real and grounded, I wanted to feel real and grounded. I wanted to bring the connection I felt to making into a life that was more authentic. Real. Real life. Not the virtual one that most people see. And I want to bring that to others.
Maybe that’s part of our roles as creatives. To bring a more authentic experience to the every day.