This is the transcript of an episode from Valentina's podcast 'Funiture of the Mind' which you can listen to here.
Today I bring you Play. Play is one of my two favourite words. I share a shimmery relationship with it - like a sequined fabric, which, catching the light at a certain angle, may suddenly startle you with its dazzling display and then as you pick it up, the angle of the light changes and the razzle dazzle vanishes instantly. You know it’s there and if you wear a dress of the fabric, it will shimmer differently at every step you take. My relationship with Play till my early adulthood was as visible to me as the shimmery fabric which would glisten and shimmer once in a while. It was always there but I had hardly noticed its presence. It was like a comfortable pair of shoes, the individual embellishment of each of whose parts fades away in the face of the close connection you share with it. It is only in the last few years that the fabric suddenly caught the light at the right angle and has remained at that angle, dazzling me continuously ever since.
Unstructured play is the essence of life
Play plays a huge part in a baby’s daily life. In fact most of the other activities in its life are often naturally entwined with play. Adults in its immediate vicinity, can spend hours playing with this toothless, drooling, burping, nappy wetting, little bundle who has yet to learn to talk, walk, run or eat! And they do so happily, joyfully, completely losing themselves in the spirit of it.
It is completely unplanned, unlearnt and unstructured and unique to every parent and child. Nodding, lisping, singing, gurgling and producing nonsensical sounds and repetitive action is an intrinsic part of it, as parent and child lovingly behold each other in pure astonishment, in a great ode to unlearnt behaviour and the spirit of pure play.
It helps that the baby’s needs are completely taken care of by the parents and he hasn’t quite started on his list of wants yet. The baby doesn’t know it but this is the most unadulterated Play he will probably ever indulge in. As he grows and starts crawling around, this sense and act of pure play slowly starts transforming. His sense of curiosity leads him to keep exploring his immediate world and his own physical limits, and at almost every step he is warned by a concerned loving parent to watch out so as to not get hurt.
This ensures that the plug is pulled on the three prominent pillars of babyhood: a total sense of surrender, living in the moment and expressing himself uninhibitedly. The victim is the sense of pure play, which slowly starts sinking in a quagmire of conditioning.
Pressures of time and place, instructions from parents, interplay between friends, personal likes and dislikes, choices of others and one’s own, squabbles with siblings, a rapidly increasing load of scholastic responsibilities, accommodation, adaptation and several other factors ensnare pure play like a wild vine, choking its spirit.
Play no longer remains the warp and weft of the fabric of life. It becomes confined to two hours sometime between teatime and dinner time. Of course now it’s shrunk further into a 4 inch by 2 inch or a 7 inch by 12 inch screen.
Somewhere during school, Play also transforms into a competitive sport, which, no doubt, has its own benefits but, it isn’t play!
Ironically, it does keep appearing in our conscious minds but we are unable to pick up the cues. When you learn a musical instrument, you learn to play it. You don’t learn to strum string, blow air, bang on skin. No! You learn to plaay it, which means you learn how to creatively express yourself by mastering it. Here too the juxtaposition of the words play and master are not coincidental. A realised master, transcends being tossed around on the sea of life experiences, flip flopping between opposites like joy and sorrow, love and hate. He transcends anger, greed, jealousy, anguish, desire. What then is he left with? A sense of pure play. And it is this sense of pure play with which he views the world, standing apart from it and not being drawn in it - just like a baby. And that is why people are drawn to such masters: because that is the innermost essence of each one of us- a sense of PURE PLAY.
Play (exploring possibilities) and Mastery go hand-in-hand
In Hinduism, the importance of pure play is displayed in big bold letters, with shiny lights, and streamers in rainbow colours, so no one misses it, and yet people don’t see it. There is a lovely Sanskrit word for it - Leela. And the names of the two favourite Gods are entwined with it. Krishna leela and Ram leela, to sort of double underline the word leela and jog people’s subconscious memory, gently reminding them to simply P L A Y.
And yet, as we grow up, how often is it that we get off our cycle of do do do and simply play play play? Play has been given short shrift, nay.. No shrift…. not even sh of the shrift….. Not even sh….. in the larger scheme of things. It’s believed to be too trivial, too childish, too silly, too discardable, too unimportant. Children are routinely told to ‘stop playing’ and finish their homework, their meal, or whatever it is the parents want them to do at that time.
Play is considered to Work as pain is to joy. Work is glorified and put on a pedestal, play is looked down upon and squashed with the toe of a hobnailed boot. The adage ‘all work and no play’ lies forgotten by the wayside, and foreplay is fossilised under layers of stratified rock, as the caravan of busy work schedules in the name of progress, rolls on and the march of time continues.
Why has nobody thought of Play schedules? That would create a whole different world. A person no less than Albert Einstein said that Play is the highest form of research. All creativity stems from pure play. So frolic in delight and wonder, fun and laughter, see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.
The cosmos itself is a creation of the pure play of the divine. Which means, when God was creating, he was simply - playing! It is all his leela. Pure play, dipped in and dripping with unconditional love, is our true essence. That’s who we really are. All else is just packaging. To get distracted by the mere packaging and not enjoy the precious gift within, to discard this vital, life giving element of life, to give up the delicious, golden honey which would make any bitter medicine of life go down smoothly, is mere foolishness. Instead of enjoying this ambrosia in a state of total surrender, we burden ourselves with carrying bundle upon bundle of all kinds of loads and trudge along through life weighed down by it. We are like the traveller, who is carrying all his luggage on his head, in the mistaken belief that he is carrying it, whereas the train he is in is carrying both him and the luggage. He just needs to put down his burden and enjoy the journey instead.
All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely - players. So simply play play play…. Because as G B Shaw said, ‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because - we stop playing.’
Play is the highest activity and all the world is a massive Toys R Us store. The birds know it, the squirrels know it, the bugs, beetles, dolphins, sharks and every other creature knows it. Heck it’s the worst kept secret in the world! Yet we continue to be blind to it once we grow up. Give yourself permission and the space to be able to say, ‘I am just playing.’