I have recently been blogging a bit about creativity and I would like to continue on that theme, to talk more about how we can get ourselves into a position where we are in the Open Mode.
In John Cleese's talk about creativity he uses the phrase "Oasis of Calm" to refer to both a physical space and a time in which we are free from the distractions of the world and free to relax, to become open, to become creative. But what is this Oasis of Calm? How can we build it?
The first thing is to find a space in which you feel relaxed, where you can shut yourself away from the distractions of your daily life where you won't be interrupted and where you will be able to play safely. I often find that in my flat I have a million distractions that I cannot escape from, paperwork that needs doing, cleaning that needs doing, a million chances to procrastinate by watching tv, gaming, or simply using the Internet and making use of my broadband connection. I have found that personally I need to take myself away from that and have often taken myself to a coffee shop where, although there are people around to distract me, I find I am more capable of focusing on the task at hand.
This may not be the most conducive place for some groups to relax and play together, if the play is noisy or where the play is involving physical activity but for me when I am playing with my imagination it works. I've used this technique for preparing my blog posts, writing software and even doing some poetry and in each case it has proved invaluable to my levels of concentration. This entire blog post was conceived planned and written in this way.
It was only after I had watched the John Cleese talk that I finally understood what it was that I was doing, I was putting myself into the Open Mode by placing myself physically in an Oasis of Calm. Like many people out there I had found something that works for me and it had not occurred to me that it could be useful technique to other people, or even just me writing about what I do could be thought-proviking to other people.
Physical space is only one aspect of the Oasis of Calm as we need to also think about the time we spend in this physical location. Very few of us have lives in which we can be completely free of the real world, it is always there lurking in the background to ruin our day, distract us, put us into the Closed Mode. So, in order to be able to relax we should dedicate a specific amount of time to our play, I will call this our Bounded Time which is a very specific period of time where we will be in the comfortable physical space, for that time we can relax because we know that the cares of the world can be dealt with when that period ends. It is important to have a start and end time, don't wing it, be disciplined but also the amount of time is highly important.
If you are like me, or John Cleese, then once you are in your Oasis of Calm you will find it difficult to switch off from the real world, you will start to relax for a few minutes, start to play with the problem you were struggling with and the "oh... Did I send Dave that e-mail?" or some similar thought pops into your head. A lot of people struggle to get fully relaxed, to shut out their daily lives, but the trick is to relax, let the thoughts come and go, tell yourself you can deal with that later as very few things in life are really that urgent you need to respond now (especially if it is something you already have put off). You may become a bit anxious but ride it out, the feelings will pass, maybe the more creative people are just those who can surf this wave of anxiety on their way to becoming relaxed and open. So, the simple conclusion that we can learn from this is don't allocate yourself a Bounded Time of less than 30 minutes as it may take you that long to fully relax and you will only just have started to play.
So, why do we need create an upper bound? Well, even as children our parents impose upon us a limit to the amount of play we can do, simply because their are real world concerns that have to be taken into consideration (as children this may be meal times, school work, bed time etc) but it is the same for us adults. As I have said earlier, we are isolating ourselves from the real world but we d need to deal with it at some point, the upper bound gives us a point in time at which the real world becomes real to us once more. Also, we will get tired, when people's bodies get tired they get restless, they start to be stressed and it is easy to lose the moment and become Closed. Probably the upper bound to our play should be around one and a half hours for a single session, especially with group play where it only takes a single person to disrupt the group's play and actually someone is going to need a comfort break and disrupt the flow of the play.
I will go into more detail in a later post but it is far better to have a series of one and a half hour play sessions over several weeks than to have a day/morning/afternoon session.
In conclusion, to feel free and Open you should look to find yourself an Oasis of Calm that isolates you from your daily concerns. Don't be constrained by reminders of the real world and give your self Bounded Times where you can be in your isolated physical space. Once there, relax, ride the wave of anxiety that may come and allow yourself to become Open.