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“Sabbath is the invitation into the free, wild space where we may play with the magic of the woods, explore off the beaten path, enter the unbounded space of our hearts and imagination." Nicola Slee

Take a look at the first image. I wonder what you see. A soft play area? This is an art piece by Pippa Hale who is interested in the necessity of play in our lives. She says “For too long our creativity has been drained out of us by an outdated education system that no longer prepares us for contemporary life. If humankind is to survive and thrive in this work of rapid change and technological advancement, we need to take back control of our creative lives, to reawaken our inner child and have some fun!”

The second image show part of an artwork called Circle of Becoming which I created in 2012 for Saltaire Festival. It was sited in the local Park and members of the public were invited to play the circular hopscotch game, so interacting with different active words such as: Hope: Joy / sorrow: Start: Birth / death: Grow: Be / do: Live: Work / play.

At the beginning of lockdown, I rediscovered play. My early morning walks included climbing trees, lying on the ground and watching the sky, exploring, making fires and swimming. The stuff of childhood books such as Swallows and Amazons, or Huckleberry Fin. I had the luxury of time, which we do not always have, and I allowed myself to enjoy that luxury. But is time to play really a luxury? Or is it, as Pippa reminds us, a necessity for survival?

As an artist I know that if I do not allow myself to ‘play’ in the studio, then the work I create will more than likely be limited, systematic and unimaginative. The process of making art is as important if not more so, than the product. The danger of deadlines is that I am tempted to cut short the exploratory stage and jump straight from my initial idea to a finished proposal. But I know from experience that this does not make for good quality work. In fact, some of my best projects have taken years of development.

When my children were young, I seriously considered home schooling them. I was concerned that at a very early age they would be squeezed into meeting educational criterium which had little to do with creativity and problem solving. The European model of Kindergarten demonstrates that children who are not only allowed but encouraged to play, actually learn more quickly than those who are taught writing and reading from an earlier age. Research proves that boys in particular are disadvantaged if they are asked to learn to write at a younger age, because their fine motor skills develop later than girls. The process of teaching them to write at the age of 4 or 5 sets them up to fail.

A friend once said to me that it was good for children to be bored because then they learn to play. And I think she’s onto something. I know that as a parent the temptation is to provide constant entertainment and activity for our children, in the hope that we enrich their lives. But what if this is in fact impoverishing them? If, out of our best intentions, we are actually teaching them busyness and not letting them have that ‘luxury of time’ that allows creativity, problem solving, and exploration to thrive? It’s also worth considering that the best gift we are giving our children when we play with them is our time, and that is invaluable. Perhaps we need to learn from this strange period we are living through that time is not a luxury, but it is a gift which we can treasure and explore both for ourselves and with those we love the most.

Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:

Do you ‘play’?

How can you give yourself the gift of time?

What have you learned about leisure time from the lockdown experience?

Meditative action:

This is a drawing game I used to play in my family when I was growing up. I suggest that you have a go at doing this alone, but then you can also ‘play’ it with someone else in your household or bubble.

- Shut your eyes and allow yourself to be still, take your time

- With your eyes still shut, scribble onto the paper

- Open your eyes and look at what you have drawn. See what picture or pattern you can find in the ‘scribble’. Try drawing in more details to make this clear.

- Think about what this might mean, but it might just be fun!

- When playing with others, each person makes a scribble (not necessarily with their eyes shut) and then passes it on to the next person, who find pictures and draws them.

This meditation is commissioned by Leeds Methodist Mission

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