Free Play

One of my favorite books, Free Play is about creativity and improvisation in art and life. Stephen Nachmanovich is a violinist. He writes vividly and compassionately about fear, inner critics, patience, and the necessity of practice—but don’t think of it as the Western “practice makes perfect”—think of practice as the meditative kind, the repetition of an inner discipline of concentration and of dedicated play with your chosen materials, be they melody, tone, clay, words, or colors. My inner child loves the idea of this serious play.

Yes, it’s a manual on creativity, on how to keep the juices flowing through dry spells, doubt and the different stages of creation. The stories and metaphors have comforted and sustained me through many stages both wet and dry.

It’s also a praise-song that joins improvisation with spirituality. Nachmanovich asserts lyrically and persuasively that the kind of absorption that comes in the process of creation, the freedom from the nagging voices within (or at least their being placed at a distance), the loss of self-consciousness that happens almost paradoxically when one gives over to the creative state—these all are very close kin to, or are, the Samadhi of the meditative practice, the loss of self into a greater whole. The process of creation unites us with something much larger than the small-s self, while being exactly an expression of Self.

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