Why 10 Year Old Me Had It Right

I went home this weekend for some much needed family time. OCD and anxiety seem to lessen their grip on me when I am in my childhood home 🙂 I ‘m sure the family dog helps too! I was chatting with my mom today as she was getting ready for the day when my eyes wandered onto some artwork framed on the wall.

I have always been aware of the existence of this artwork, seeing it in the corner of my eye whenever I had entered that room. Each time I have seen it I have also , somewhere in my brain, consciously recognized it as artwork I had created as a child. It was not until today, however, that I really decided to look at these souvenirs from my childhood. These were significant pieces! When I was about 10, I had taken the standard “trace-your-hand” assignment and turned it into a vibrant identity piece with all the things my 10 year old self had felt were defining symbols of my identity (complete with a watercolor N’sync logo on my pointer finger). In another frame was a poem I had written for my mother, paired with a painting of my mother and I as fairies floating above purple hydrangeas. These were some darn good hydrangeas people!

In that moment, as I stood appreciating those relics from my past, I suddenly recovered some wisdom that I think most people lose as they leave behind their childhood. Memories of me writing and painting and drawing  as a child for hours on the weekend came flooding back to me.  I remembered Saturdays spent creating and painting while time flew past. I did not notice anything or anyone around me. It was just me, paper, water colors, and sometimes music. It was sacred to me, and as a child, it just happened. And it made me so happy. Silly pictures that would never be seen or loved by anyone but my parents were so gratifying! I enjoyed creating for the simple act of creating and would just lose myself in it.

Ah yes. That fantastic and mysterious thing the great psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi captured in his theory of flow  (you should go read about it, it’s pretty awesome!).

As I got older, I abandoned my creativity. I believed that painting and writing, unless I was exceptional, would not allow me to be the successful adult I was hoping to be. So why do it at all?  By the time I was 14, I was spending my Saturdays creating elaborate timelines for how I was going to get accepted into the Air Force Academy, getting ahead with extra classes, working, researching,  etc. While the specific goals have changed, the habit of replacing activities that bring about that natural state of flow and contentment with activities in the name of progress has not. While ambition is not a bad thing and dedicating energy to lofty goals has brought me far, I lost the natural wisdom 10 year old me possessed when I decided it was not worth spending unknown amounts of time on Saturdays bringing my imagination to life.

Why do we make such extreme decisions? Sure, I probably can’t paint unlimited amounts of water colors now as a 24 year old every weekend (or can I?), but who said I couldn’t do it for an hour? Or even 30 minutes here and there? Why is it that when once I had a closet full of art supplies, I now struggle to find a marker in my room? When and why did I decide that growing up meant zero tolerance for the stuff that naturally made me happy? I know that anything that naturally induces such extreme happiness and mindfulness should be a constant in one’s life, and yet some part of me seems to cringe at the very idea of allowing such a thing! Hmm. Interesting.  I bet I would feel a whole lot better every day if I just allowed myself to be uninhibited in creating again just once a week. I suppose though, now that I think about, this blog counts 🙂

Oh look! A TED talk about flow. Let’s watch it:

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