We adults so easily forget that we are playing.
In all the seriousness that descends on our hearts as we take up the business of homes, jobs and families we seem to lose sight of the simple truth that right here in the middle of all these responsibilities we are also still kids at play. The old school grounds and play grounds where we first met friends and foes and first encountered the fascination of the mystery of the other, where we built our castles and took on the roles of heroes and captains, damsels in distress and great adventurers – those playgrounds are still inside us.
Sometimes these playgrounds are not at all hard to see. The elderly and the terminally ill show the state of things especially clearly. Even at 80 years old we remain children of the universe, full of bluster and bravado; making mistakes in our foolishness yet rarely even then are we completely without charm.
“Oh dear”, we adults tell ourselves, “everything I am doing is so very important.” And indeed it is, yet we forget the most important task. It is in the enjoyment of existence that the human heart says yes and thank you. I think we can all agree that it is only when we are tragically caught up in blindness that we could ever believe, even for a moment, that our fundamental response to being alive should be anything but yes and thank you.
One of the ways I lose sight of the playfulness at the heart of life is by imposing my small agendas on the unfolding present. The mind trained by culture endlessly plans or ruminates about how everything will become perfect IF x,y,z or what happened would have been perfect IF a,b,c. Round and round it goes, spinning stories to tell itself about cars and houses, sexual escapades and spiritual retreats, vacations in the Ozarks and applause from peers and strangers… on and on the weaving of imaginative stories captures our attention until we catch ourselves, suddenly awake like a sleepwalker who is not quite sure how they arrived where they are and came to be doing what presently occupies them.
Waking from imagination’s conceptual spinning, the body breathes and in the next breath finds all the blessings of being any being could ever hope for. The mind is a fine tool for navigating the ins and outs of the crowded playground but its imaginative layer obsessed only with sustaining personal survival makes a lousy master. Instead this fine tool of imagination should be given the hand of the master craftsman, the master that lives in our hearts where the warmth of full-blooded, pulsing life dwells endlessly flowing forth, pursuing its own agendas far beyond the reach of our feverish hubris. In the hands of the master craftsman the tool of imagination is trained and tamed and finds its proper role. One not that different from the one we all knew as children when a summer’s day held endless fascination or a simple beach castle became a small kingdom.
We are here, now, on this earth swimming, as it were, together in the streams of reality. Evidently being with one another is somehow important as the boundless energy of the DNA spins its way through billions of years, unfolding in trillions of bodies. Evidently feeding off the sun, structurally supporting awareness is somehow important, as is sharing our representation with the whole of the biosphere moment by moment. Evidently gravity and water and air and touch and voice and all the rest of it are irreplaceable parts of the ever and always interconnected whole, the cradle of reality from which no child can fall, the web of Indra’s net, in which it is not so much we belong to it as it is what we are.
In the breath, in the beating of the heart, in the light of the eye, in the manipulations of the hand, in these are found the wondrous dignity of humankind. Our cars, tractors, shopping malls, and internet are pale imitations of the original wonder, yet they are our toys; the artifacts by which we build the reflections of our awe. And build we must. For we are surrounded by mystery and so must build cathedrals and shrines, surrounded by passions and so must build societies out of rituals, surrounded by endless forms most beautiful and wondrously made and so we too must build our religions and philosophies.
Our powers are so great we can even pretend to forget that at the heart of everything we do is a child at play; exploring realities, building sand castle models from what we find and sharing the occasional shiny thing with one another. Homo Sapiens is the animal with the longest childhood of all. It characterizes everything we do as artists, engineers, lovers and soldiers. The evolutionary stamp of neoteny impresses itself on everything we do.
So when we turn against our children we are about as seriously lost as it is possible for our species to be. When we sell our grandchildren down the river to avoid inconveniencing ourselves, we betray the very thing which makes a human life worth living; the playfulness which recognizes life is a very precious opportunity and enjoying it. Caught up in our make-believe we lose sight of the real; we forget the profit and loss statement is meant to serve human needs, that nutritious food and adequate shelter are more fundamental than jet planes. Like the young people who in their innocent exuberance do not recognize the danger in a drug filled needle, as a society we have made consequence-filled mistakes in our assessments of how risky some of our behaviors actually are. The drug that has snared us is as black as the pit of hell: oil; sticky stench, poisonous to the touch. Unique in its energy density the Faustian bargain it offered proved irresistible. Now as we reap what we have sown I think it is more important than ever to recognize that we are playing. Oil is but one toy among many. We survived without it before and we will again. In our innocent exuberance we stumbled into a dangerous trap and now find ourselves up the suburban cul-de-sac without a paddle. As Scrooge, the shadow side of capitalism had it; we are soon to “shed the excess population.” Already the iniquity of inequality dogs our bloody steps through history and with the shrinking energy budget at the base of our industrial civilization, the middle classes throughout the world are being thrown under the bus. The terminally unemployed army grows, haunting the landscape of overproduction. Before long the ride of the four horsemen will become difficult for even the best PR firms to ignore and that is when, as a species, we begin to look at ourselves in the mirror. Will we not be sorely tempted to cut our own throat to escape the economic, ecological and political suffering we are inflicting on our children?
All Faustian bargains end in a dark night of final initiation. Life will have its way; reality will remain unmoved by either our pleading or apologies. Suddenly, in the mirror, will we see a demon or laughing at our folly, will we see a child?