Be Playful

Posts Tagged ‘creativity

Real conversation has an unpredictability, danger, and resonance; it can take a turn anywhere and constantly borders on the unexpected and on the unknown.

John O’Donohue

Photo by polandeze.

Conversation as an Art Form

Conversation is an art form. It is a place of beauty and delight. When conversation flows, it can lead to great insight.

Similar to dancing, it involves movement back and forth. There is often a leader, and a follower, although this can change numerous times throughout a conversation.

Conversation is also a playground of the imagination. Many conversations follow predictable patterns, which is useful for beginning and maintaining relationships, but rarely leads to new depth or insights.

A beautiful, well crafted conversation can transform your life. There are some people who I can only speak to rarely, because I know that everytime I talk to them something within me will change and become new.

Tools of the Craft: Listening and Speaking

Photo by procsilas.

The danger of conversations is that we fail to fully enter into what the other person is saying. We are easily distracted, either by our own thoughts and worries, or by thinking about what we will say next. Two tools I have found helpful for moving beyond these dangers are active listening and centred speaking.

Active listening means listening fully and carefully to what they other person is saying, both in their words, their body language, voice tone, and emotional posture. Once they have finished speaking, it is often helpful to repeat what has been said in your own words, to clarify what you have heard, to absorb it into your being, and to clarify for your conversation partner their thoughts. Often we are unaware of exactly what we are saying until it is repeated back to us.

Centred speaking involves pausing for a moment to reflect before saying what is on our hearts. This moment of reflection allows us to be clear about what we are truly thinking and feeling, which can be very different from what we originally want to say. It shows great respect for your conversation partner that you care enough to get your words exactly right.

The Silent Stillness Where Ideas are Born

Photo by moriza.

Conversation can be awkward, especially during moments of silence. I often try to escape conversations that have become awkward by babble-speak, or more often, by leaving the room altogether. However, like any type of art, conversation takes a lifetime to master, and holding firm when things get difficult can pay great dividends. It’s often the most awkward conversations that end up being the most honest and truthful, and that end up changing who we are.

The Flow of Conversation

Conversations can be like the creative state of flow. In the state of flow, we are both challenged and absorbed by what we are doing. The worries of life move to the back of our minds, because the creativity and imagination of what we are doing takes hold of all of our being. The sense of self disappears, the beauty we are creating means we lose consciousness of our own presence, if only for a moment. Time becomes irrelevant, it disappears in a wonderful way, appearing not to exist at all.

Building Rapport: A Story

Recently I had a job interview that went really badly. I was nervous, I stuttered in answer to questions, and I failed to engage with my interviewers. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

The reason that I didn’t get the job was because the conversation with my interviewers didn’t flow. This was partly because it was a panel of seven interviewing me, and they were reading questions from a script. However, I could have worked harder to build rapport and to engage more fluidly.

Building rapport allows conversation to become more intimate. It liberates you and your conversation partner to be yourselves. Salespeople build rapport manipulatively, to convince you to give them what they want.

The ways to build rapport are known by most people, and simply learnt. Yet few of us take the effort to consciously put these tools into practice. The best ways to build rapport are to:

  • Hold gentle eye contact
  • Smile at the moments of delight
  • Mirror body language
  • Match tone of voice and speed of speaking

Some of these things we do naturally, others we have to learn. I naturally mirror body language and match my voice tone in any conversation that I am enjoying. However, I often forget to maintain eye contact and to smile.

Your Thoughts

What’s the best conversation you’ve ever had?

What characteristics did it have that are similar to being an artist?

How does ’conversation as an art form’ apply to blogging?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Photo by David Paul Ohmer.

Some days I wake up tingling with creativity and bursting with life. Other days my brain wakes up in stand-by mode and splutters slowly into existence. By the time I’ve realised that it’s morning, I’m already ready for bed.

Everyday I have to write.

Fortunately, I don’t have to come up with a masterpiece everyday; just a few news stories and the occasional academic essay. Still, sometimes I do feel inspired into creative, playful writing – and not just because I wake up in a good mood. I think it’s important to know our catalysts of creativity, so that when we need to be creative, we know where to turn.

Catalysts of Creativity

A catalyst of creativity is anything that inspires you to be creative. There are two types of catalysts of creativity – creativity-prompts, and inspirers.

Creativity-prompts are the everyday things that give us the drive to be creative. It may be the feel of soapy water when washing up, outrage at a badly written plot in a novel, or your favourite notebook.

My creativity-prompts are:

  • my beautiful moleskine notebook and parker pen
  • getting enough sleep
  • a cup of coffee or a bar of chocolate
  • appallingly written daytime TV dramas that leaves me thinking ‘I can do better than that’
  • well written blogs that ask specific questions
  • sitting in a cafe watching the world go by
  • sunshine
  • having a real typewriter on my desk

You’ll probably have noticed that some of these are best done all the time, such as getting enough sleep, and carrying my notebook everywhere. Others, such as chocolate and daytime TV, I keep as special treats for when I need that extra boost.

Photo by pasotraspaso.

Inspirations are those things that cause the muse to well up inside you. They turn the desire to be creative into creative ability. Inspirations are different for every person; they may be a poem, a painting, children playing, a novel, or an accidental daffodil on the roadside.

Some things that inspire me are:

  • Shakespeare
  • Walking in the countryside
  • Flickr photographs
  • The Bible
  • John O’Donohue
  • thought provoking questions
  • the sea
  • a real conversation

Anti-Catalysts of Creativity

As well as knowing our catalysts of creativity, it’s important to know our anti-catalysts of creativity. Anti-catalysts of creativity are those things that reduce our desire to be creative. It’s important to be aware of anti-catalysts, not to get rid of them, but to know the effect they’re having when we use them.

There are two types of anti-catalysts of creativity: creativity drainers, and reverse inspirers.

Creatvity-drainers are those things that use up our creative energy, but give little or no creative output in return. These include watching television, reading pulp fiction, computer games, and socialising. Creativity drainers are an important part of life because they are an opportunity to let out any negative creative energy that’s plaguing us, and to express ourselves creatively without needing an end result.

Some of the creativity drainers in my life are:

  • Playing on my Nintendo DS
  • Watching television (especially Eastenders, The Apprentice, and Top Gear)
  • Beer, crisps & friends at the pub
  • John Grisham

Reverse-inspirers are the inspirations that demotivate us, because they lead us to think ‘I’ll never be that good,’ or because we use them for the emotional high that they give us, and so we ignore the call of the muse. For me, the biggest reverse-inspirers are Shakespeare, who always leaves me feeling that I’ll never be able to write well, and the sea, which leaves me beautifully melancholy in a way that I don’t want to be creative, I just want to be.

Your Thoughts

What inspires you?
What are the catalysts of creativity in your life?
What about the anti-catalysts?
Are reverse-inspirers always negative?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo by SlapBcn.

Clowns are brilliant. They bring joy and laughter to the world. They’re larger than life, clumsy, confused, very silly, and full of nonsense.

I’ve been reading a lot about clowns and jesters recently, working out how to be a clown in my everyday life. Here’s what I’ve learnt.

Unpredictable Free Spirits

Clowns have a freedom and unpredictability of spirit. They are willing to say, do, and be something different, taking the risk of being ridiculed.

One of the keys to being playful is having a freedom and unpredictability of spirit. In the midst of daily drudge and routine everyday clowns bring sparkles and smiles through a moment of unconscious sillyness or spontaneous dancing.

It’s also true that the world cannot become a better place without people who are willing to do and say things differently, to risk being ridiculed. To stand up against the norms of society is brave and can be dangerous, so getting a few laughs on the way is no bad thing.

Larger than Life

Photo by dct.

Clowns are larger than life; they are disproportionate to the world. This is both in terms of their physical appearance (huge shoes, red noses, crazy hair), and in terms of their emotions and charisma. The happiness and sadness of clowns is both more wonderful and more terrible than happiness and sadness in everyday life.

Maybe wearing a red nose every day isn’t the way you want to go, but think of other things you can do to stand out, make people smile, and get others talking to you. Wear three watches or a kooky scarf, a sparkly brooch or a flower in your hair.

One of my favourite things to do is to wear a cowboy hat when I travel on trains. It’s amazing how many more people talk to me just because I look a bit different, and it definitely makes people smile too.

Clumsy and Confused

Clowns often get confused between what is valuable and worthless, and struggle to tell the difference between truth and folly. In doing this, they embody the confusion and darkness of the unconscious world. This is good for making others think about what is valuable and true. As one academic writer on clowns, William Willeford, puts it:

‘It may be true that our action and knowledge rest on beliefs which we assume to be more adequate than they are.’

A lesson to be learnt from this is the need to embrace complexity. As much as we might love to find a final answer to our problems, a final truth to solve our worries, it can be helpful to realise that the world is rarely as simple as we would like it to be. In knowing this complexity, we are set free from the need to control everything and everyone.

This isn’t an excuse to wallow in our problems and not seek a way out, but it does make us aware that the way out is more likely to be a long and winding road than a hop, skip and a jump.

The confusion of a clown can help to clarify things for ourselves. In the confusion of clowns, we see a dissonance between what is valuable and worthless, and we begin to realise the times that we have listened to the pedlars of broken dreams. We also realise the times that we are truly listening to our real dreams, the inner dreams from the depths of our being.

Full of Common Nonsense

Photo by Yodel Anecdotal.

Jesters – the clowns in the courts of Kings and Queens – would wear bells on their hats. This was so they could shake their heads if anyone tried to instil some ‘common sense’ into them. The bells would drown out what was being said to them.

There is often a lot of sense in common sense, but equally often there is a lot of nonsense. The next time you hear someone peddling nonsense in the name of common sense, remember the bells on your hat, and give them a shake.

The magic tricks that clowns would perform in the courts of Kings, and on the streets, were designed to contrast with the ‘magic’ of the kings and priests that was accepted as common sense.

Some kind of ‘magic’ today means that the majority of the world is caught in the trap of poverty whilst a small minority feast on riches. Some kind of ‘spell’ makes us think that this is normal.

Magic tricks make us aware that we may be believing illusions, but also offer the possibility of magical moments of change, when hope breaks through in the most desperate of circumstances.

In Summary

  • Clowns are free spirits – a good example to follow.
  • Clowns are wacky and larger than life – another great way to be.
  • Clowns are confused and clumsy. This can help us navigate the confusion and clumsiness in our lives that we’d prefer to ignore.
  • Clowns don’t think much of common sense. They know that being sensible can be a lot of nonsense.

Photo by moriza.

If you have lived in a city or large town for any period of time, you will have probably noticed how commericialised the city centre has become. If the centre of a city defines the identity of that city’s residents, then it would be true to say that the urban dweller’s primary identity is that of the consumer. Who we are is defined by what we are able to buy.

This means that it is hard to do anything playful in a city without buying something. Shopping, the cinema, restaurants and cafes, the local pub – even some city parks now charge an entry fee.

So, here are some brilliant completely free ways to be playful in the city. As a bonus, many of these ideas subvert the high-pace and the commercialisation of city life.

1. Go on a Zen Walk

Go to a busy place in the city that you like, maybe even somewhere you pass every day. Decide on a short route of about 500 metres (1/4 mile). Walk the route as slowly as you dare, breathe slowly, and let yourself become part of the city space. Pause at the end of your walk to reflect on things you noticed.

2. Go flash-mobbing

Join a large group of people in a synchronised, seemingly random act. If there isn’t a flash-mob group in your area, set one up. For inspiration, there are some great videos on YouTube.

3. Join your local freecycle group

Buck the buying addiction and give stuff away. You’ll also find many of the things you need for free too.

Note: Freecycle does send a lot of emails. I recommend setting up an email filter with a folder dedicated to freecycle.

4. Find a spot you like and read a book

You can get free books on bookmooch, or from your local library.

5. Give someone a smile

On the bus, across the street, in the shopping mall. Most people will look away, but nothing can beat getting your smile returned.

6. Visit a museum

Did you know that it’s completely free to visit all publicly owned museums in the UK, from galleries of art, to museums dedicated to local relics? I love the silence in museums, and they are great places to get inspiration, or to sit quietly and day dream.

7. Do an A-Z walk

Look up the first street (beginning with ‘A’) and the last street (beginning with ‘Z’ or a nearby letter) in the index of a city map. Walk the most direct route from one to the other.

8. Join in with a carnival

Carnivals and festivals have a lively, vibrant atmosphere. Don’t worry about not fitting in. One of my favourite festivals in Manchester is the Muslim celebration of Eid. I wouldn’t feel comfortable joining in, but I love the buzz of the festival atmosphere.

9. Be an insurgent for peace and justice


Photo by kalandraka.

Whether it’s starting a free hugs campaign, offering to spend time with an elderley neighbour, or inviting a homeless person around for a meal, you can start to be the change you wish to see .

Your Thoughts

How have you been playful in the city? What other ways can you think of for being playful? Let me know how you get on if you try any of these.

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