Play is easy. Getting there can be hard. Let go, ease up, open up, release, be yourself, unwind, have fun, be the ball, connect, interact, flow, tag; you’re it. Pass it on.
For an adult to play is often considered childish. And then being childish is considered to be something bad. So if you’re less than serious about things, you might be thought of as being crazy…
But play is in all of us. Like the sociologist Johan Huizinga said in his famous book, Homo ludens, play contains both serious and non-serious attitudes. It contains them; it covers them; and it may even be their source. In other words, our whole existence as Homo sapiens may be predicated on a sort of game. We’re playing a cosmic game, called life on Earth.
Alan Watts, the philosopher and popularizer of Eastern religions, said that existence itself is like a game of hide and seek. In this game, the great “I”, the Creator, keeps forgetting who he/she is because he/she is playing (playing) a part. In this game, for example, I am playing the role of student, of traveler, of white person, of writer, of male, of middle son, of multilingualist, of Earthbound human, etc. I’m playing the roles that make me who I am. I use them to identify myself. But quite often these roles also make me forget, as Watts says, that before all that, before playing a part – before being ‘apart’ – I am the One playing. I am the One at Play.
Because roles are serious, they become sacred. And they are rather fixed, because they give our life meaning. They define the rules of how we interact with the world around us. So even though oneness is the name of the game, and perhaps the most fixed reality there is, we are so busy being serious about our smaller roles that we forget we can play at the level of oneness.
Joseph Campbell, the fatherly mythologist and author of books like “Myths we Live By,” said that these roles are in fact like the masks of God. They are the faces of eternity as eternity experiences itself through time. God expresses itself as the garbage man, the flower, the pull of gravity, everything.
Now, this game of hide-and-seek, where eternity is played out through a chaos of interacting roles and parts, has a particular element that really only becomes clear in mythology. Through mythology, we can get to a really important perspective on play. We can actually discover the ultimate player of the ultimate game.
This player, who has the role of roles, is something of a chameleon. He wears so many masks that he is almost impossible to trace.
His mythological name is Trickster. This is a character who would have been familiar to the common person a few thousand years back, before the big religions came. Nowadays he is making a comeback, but he still has a long way to go. And this is hardly surprising, because this is a character who shits all over the big religions.
Still, the Trickster can be found around today. You might know him, for example, as Bugs Bunny. Or Salvador Dali. Or Jim Carrey.
The trickster is basically the embodiment of play; it’s the embodiment of the psyche which, no matter what it is doing, is doing it as play. It is the mind which recognizes the game element in life. Not just ‘being at one’, or ‘being human’, or ‘being happy,’ but all of these games at the same time!
Think of it as a novel in which a character wakes up to the fact that he is a character in a novel. The freedom! The anarchy! The character might stir some shit up; he might call out to the author to rewrite his part; he might even step out of the novel altogether.
What I mean is, the trickster is not necessarily concerned with doing the right thing the way he is supposed to do it. He is not concerned with being either good or evil or any such roles in general.
The trickster wants something to happen, for the game to move on, for fixed and serious rules that make people stop thinking to make way for play.
So he throws a pebble in a still pond. She plays a harpsichord in a pop song. Tells a joke at a funeral. Begins a conversation on tantric sex at the office. Anything unexpected, fun, different, and ALIVE that you can think of. Or, that you can do without thinking. Because playing with your roles in life is one of the main ingredients in keeping things interesting. You don’t need to play your part the way you think you’re expected to.
So here’s my not so final word on play. As a representative of this totality of existence, come to understand the fact that you are playing a role – that you are wearing a mask of God – and that you don’t have to accept just being played. Because, make no mistake, the impersonal, non-fun forces of natural and social reality will gladly let us be played in the game that they have prepared for all of us.
But in reality, these roles – these rules – are only loosely shackled around your wrists. You can in fact act the way you want. You can act as if you are what you think you are; or you can take on any of an infinite amount of roles and variations in the biggest game, the hide and seek of eternity.