Heartful Conversation: The Spirit of Play

I just returned from a week in Austin, TX where I participated in a laboratory of experimentation with 23 (mostly unknown) other people, a think tank of sorts. The play-field was created by Seven Pillars House of Wisdom. As implied by the name, Seven Pillars is building a house of wisdom here and now in our frenetic time.

Heading into the event guests were given little more than a theme, "Heartful Conversation."  Later contemplative bits were given out and explored in conversation. Like a game of Clue more was revealed as time unfolded. Part way along the game masters dissolved and the guests became the game makers.

One could tell that we were actually 'playing' because beneath the personality of the participants was the clear picture of children self-inquiring by pressing up against one another in exploration in order to see what will be discovered. The language given by the game makers also suggested that what we were doing was play: musicality, creativity, not knowing, mystery, encounters, phenomena, insights. Can you hear it?

Like the playground of our youth there was nothing to buy or sell, no 'real' labor and nothing at stake. The discoveries and insights from the laboratory were not to go to market. They were to build a house of wisdom in our commons, free and uncommodified.

I got to wondering, "why is grown-up play unordinary?" I looked at each person in the group. They all carried big worldly responsibilies for which the effects are felt by many more than themselves. They carry more than their own share. We all know that play is not a method used by those tasked with solving the most difficult problems of our day. Play is not a strategy in that field. I wondered if their responsibilities, distinct because they are hard and stuck and serious, could benefit from what play offers: curiosity, experimentation, imagination, non-duality, limitlessness, whimsy, trial without consequence, the ability to rewrite the rules and the game, fluidity, discovery, a living imagination, witnessing and engagement with heartful interest (to name a few). But we live in the antithesis of play.

I thought about yoga. In yoga resistance plus resistance = more resistance.

I caught a small glimpse of how a house of wisdom is built and why it must be made. From the play-field I could see a strange human habit. We are prone to build a world that exiles the remedy to our failure, the lost things. It is as if we know.  Hanging out at the wall's edge of our fraught and frenzied civilization is play and it has gone limp and is without embodiment. Marginalized, it shows the world we made to be so serious as to be deadly. We can not move without consequence.

It is hard to see the world from the world. New sight doesn't come into view all at once. Play is free, unleashed, wild and unserious. Hoisted up against the world it can appear trite and impotent, even short sighted. But is it? It may be unusual. Play doesnt usually exist in position with what is critical, dangerous and hyper-real. Play is in some sense unborn and unformed in our world. Outside the margin, unintegrated. Yet it is the way the world becomes and is first imagined.

I suspect that Seven Pillars has sniffed out the relevance of play. The events, think tanks, salons and experiential engagements that they host imply so in their form and also in what comes out of them which is a view of what is emerging rather than a rehash of we already know. Something ever new such as this naturally revives our childlike wonder, play's own spirit.

I don't mind that this contemplation has left me standing at the cliff's edge with bits of things that don't amount to a whole. The fragmentation feels more true right now than what is made finished out of habit to complete. At least for this moment I have let the idea of play go free and roam.

(Illustration - from my sketchbook. Jinn in their laboratory and creating what has not yet been born)


Lee Irwin said...

Homo Ludens or "Man the Player" (alternatively, "Playing Man") is a book written in 1938 by Dutch historian, cultural theorist and professor Johan Huizinga. It discusses the importance of the play element of culture and society. Huizinga uses the term "Play Theory" within the book to define the conceptual space in which play occurs. Huizinga suggests that play is primary to and a necessary (though not sufficient) condition of the generation of culture.


Devina said...

Wendy, check out these 3 videos from Alan Watts talking about work as play. http://degreesofemotion.wordpress.com/videos-alan-watts-work-as-play/

I unschool my 6 children and so much of what they do is just play. Sandra Dodd, who lives in Albuquerque, has a website about unschooling. I can get lost for an hour just reading everything she has to say.

Wendy Jehanara Tremayne said...

Love the book suggestion Lee. Thank you.

I started wondering this afternoon. What would it look like if houses of parliament and other groups could rehearse their ideas to one another first, as to enact a play. Conclusions or outcomes would have no consequence. The whole enactment is simply a process of engagement to see what was brought forward.