“Don’t be afraid to be a fool,” Stephen Colbert. This is an appropriate follow up to our conversation about doing something differently from the other week. One area we didn’t talk about was the fact that people do the same thing over and over again because they are comfortable. They are used to it and it is familiar to them. Plus the truth is we don’t want to look stupid as we do something different or new. But we have to learn to put aside what we look like for the sake of learning what we are meant to. The only way to learn something new is to try it and that means entering territory we haven’t been before.
We need what the Buddha calls “beginner’s mind” all the time. It’s only then that we are able to break the habits we’ve formed. If we weren’t getting anywhere with them anyway, then why do we need to continue? We don’t. Growth doesn’t happen amidst comfort in most cases anyway. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a natural process. There will come a time when the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of growth. And being foolish is part of that. There is some nobility in being a fool and there is wonder in remembering the purpose of play and curiosity—to grow and learn. Making play a silly thing or a superficial unnecessary thing is where we went wrong. We need play as a tool. We need the spark of curiosity.
I spent most of my life dictating what happened every second of every day. I remember as far back as grade school when we were reading things aloud, I would count how many kids were in front of me so I could find my section and practice it. I never wanted to look like I didn’t know what I was doing. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I grew up with siblings older than me and I always wanted to be part of that crowd so I always tried to keep up and “know” what I was doing. I robbed myself of the act of learning and creating by trying to be what they were. Yes, I needed the companionship of my siblings, but we were in different places. I wanted to be seen as one of them, not be taught by them. The ironic thing is, now as an adult, I can see what I would have learned if I had let go.
But learning isn’t always a pretty process. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. We have to remember the point of things isn’t in how they look. I know it’s primitive brain because we needed to be able to discern quickly what was dangerous and what wasn’t, what food would kill us and what wouldn’t, who we could trust and who we couldn’t, and what animals we could work with and those that would kill us. And bottom line, at that time if we didn’t know what we were doing, we wouldn’t survive so our tribes would leave us behind. So while we don’t live like that, the primal instincts are still there. It takes time to retrain the brain to let go of those things.
I’ve learned a lot about play and looking ridiculous through my relationship with my son. Kids have NO fear about what they look like. They may have initial doubts in their abilities, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. They approach the world with curiosity and they simply want to know if they can do it when it crosses their minds—whatever “it” may be in the moment. When I first started the parenting thing, I wanted things to look a certain way. Not as quickly as I should have, I realized that nothing will ever look as it’s supposed to or how we plan it in our minds. We are dealing with little humans and they have their own ideas. Soon we realize how much they are teaching us.
Much quicker than we think, we forget what it is like to play. We are taught to conform and release our creativity early as some sort of sacrifice for the greater good. Many of us let it die. I know I let my creativity go for a long time. But it kept calling me. There was always a faint thread keeping it tied to me. The louder it got, the more I had to heed the call. It was as if my son’s needs were pulling at my creativity as well. So we played, and something awakened in me. I didn’t care what the “point” was, I didn’t care what he needed to learn—I remembered what I needed to learn. Once we get to that point, it doesn’t matter what anything looks like. I seek out looking foolish. I want to enjoy this life—I don’t care what it looks like.