Channelling the Creativity of Children

When you were 8 years old, the world was your personal playground. There were no limits to your imagination and no boundaries to the make-believe kingdoms you’d invent. You were a born artist, with an infinite capacity to create and express. In a matter of seconds, a pillow fort could be transformed into a colossal, underwater cave, or a carpeted basement into a blazing sea of lava.

At some point in time, however, you learned to tame your wild imagination—to replace your fanciful daydreams with plausible, concrete plans, and to trade your fairytale storybooks for harsh, nonfiction truths.

Of course, there is a time when play must come to an end. No one can make a living off of building pillow forts, or become a successful, respectable adult by sitting around reading Goldilocks. With that said, however, let us not forget that creativity is an endlessly valuable ability that can reap rewards in any given aspect of life.

As a society, we seem to have become fixated on practicality and logic. Rather than expressing the ideas and ambitions which make us unique, we choose to conceal them and continue down the mundane path of normality.

Stifling our imaginations for too long raises a dangerous risk, for when it does comes time to “think creatively”—in an essay, on the field, or during an important job interview—our minds draw a blank. Our imagination no longer functions on muscle memory, and so we often find ourselves staring at a wordless Word document for hours on end, or scratching our heads at a problem that has no visible solution.

What we fail to realize, in such moments, is that we are in fact trying too hard. Our desire for instant gratification is so gripping that we become more consumed by the idea of what we don’t have than the vision of what we would like to create. Directing all of our energy into the lack of a solution or onto the wordlessness of the Word document before us only further perpetuates the creative struggle.

At 8 years old, when building our royal palaces or imagining a tropical jungle into existence, there was no strain or sense of urgency. The process of creation was intuitive and natural. Our minds merged with matter effortlessly, granting us an experience in which psychologists describe as “flow.”

“When creativity is in full fire, people can experience what athletes and performers call the ‘white moment.’ Everything clicks. Your skills are so perfectly suited to the challenge that you seem to blend with it. Everything feels harmonious, unified, and effortless,” Daniel Goleman and Paul Kaufman describe in Psychology Today.

While this so-called “white moment” may be more common among professional football players or Broadway performers, it is an experience with which I believe we are all familiar. We have all had those instances when, out of the blue, a brilliant thought dawns upon us. Something seems to shift within, and then, suddenly, a burst of radiant insight appears in our mental sky, as if the childlike, creative spirit that has so long been suppressed suddenly rises from its cage.

Interestingly enough, these profound experiences tend to occur during moments in which we decide to stop exerting all of our mental energy toward the task at hand, and instead choose to let go. By “letting go” and separating from the toxic pressures which so often grasp us, we grant ourselves a newfound sense of creative freedom.

According to Goleman and Kaufman, the subconscious mind is the dwelling place for our most imaginative thoughts and ideas. In order to access its creative powers, however, we must be willing to quiet our conscious minds.

“The unconscious mind is far more suited to creative insight than the conscious mind,” they write. “Ideas are free to recombine with other ideas in novel patterns and unpredictable associations. It is also the storehouse of everything you know, including things you can’t readily call into awareness.”

Still, one cannot help but wonder what it means, in practical terms, to utilize the subconscious mind.

I believe that children are our best teachers. If we could learn to mimic the openness, innocence, and originality that we all possessed at seven or eight years old, we would find that creativity is not unattainable, nor is it reserved for geniuses and prodigies.

In the context of daily life at Boston College, creativity could be sparked by anythinga conversation you overhear at the Chocolate Bar, a stranger you pass while running around the Res, or by that daydream which you so often dismiss as distraction. In order to experience the spark, however, we must first become attentive and receptive to the stream of inspiration that surrounds us.

We must slow down and breathe life in through all of our senses, the way that a wonderstruck child would. Little by little, these subtle practices help us to develop our own unique perspectives. Instead of seeing the world through the narrow lens of adult society, we see the world with our own eyes, under the light of our own creative fire.

Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor