plā′wėrk′ings, n. Portions of play matters consideration; draft formations.

Posts tagged ‘philosophy’

Further draft workings: hyper-focus, time, and about the very now

Something strange happens to time when you’re hyper-focused: it doesn’t reel out in quite the same way as the norm. ‘Time’ seems to be one of those themes in this writer’s writing: something that recurs. Here, I’m thinking about the time in a talk-discussion given/entered into, and I’m thinking about what I’ve previously called ‘playground time’. Firstly, and again, thank you to Lauren at the South London Gallery (SLG) for inviting me to explore (an indulgence for me) on many of the lines of my current thinking, this past week via the monthly Play Local talks. I’ve still yet to process everything that was said, and that wasn’t said, that evening, but it’ll come.

The kick-start for this particular piece of writing here is a story I told at the SLG talk. I told the tale of Beowulf, or my own oratory version of it, but it was told at length, or so it seemed. Perhaps it did go on for a while, but when I checked in with the clock soon after, nothing of the time I’d thought had passed had actually passed. It’s the same, or similar, often on the playground. When the children are playing, when all is as fine as it is and can be in that moment, when I check in on the clock just to see out of curiosity, time has a habit of being strange. This is kind of the opposite of ‘time flies when you’re having fun’.

Last week the sun was shining again. We have been spoilt these past weeks after summer has bled into the start of the new term. It’s had its positive affects on the children, or so it seems. I remember standing in the middle of the playground, as the play has happened, sometimes slowly, sometimes in bursts of action, sometimes ponderously, and I remember this on several occasions, and I thought how ‘very now’ it all was. This isn’t the phrase my ‘in the moment’ thinking took, exactly (I don’t even think there were words at all, as such), but there was the sentiment of ‘very now-ness’. This is both something I’ve written about before, here, and something I thought about maybe bringing up at the SLG talk, though I didn’t because it wasn’t the discussion that was forming.

Here’s what I wrote in my SLG notes, taken from the former blog post, but redefined in more visual form:

About the Very Now

So, here I am revisiting the ‘very now’. When I stand in the middle of the playground and I see the children scatter, on coming in from school, like (in my current writing simile, though not in the thinking of the then as it was) they’re pieces of paper released, I feel the ‘very now’ but without the words to describe it as such; I feel it when I see the children wandering around tucking into fat ‘fish finger and ketchup’ sandwiches, or when I see them engrossed in experiments of squeezing the end of the hose pipe to see which way the water goes, and how far, in the hazy sunlight; I feel the ‘very now’ when I watch the intense concentration of one boy, one day, as he carefully dissects an old computer with a screwdriver, peering into its innards from close quarters as if inspecting the very essence of its life-force itself.

I don’t know what time’s doing in the heads of the playing children; what time does in me is something strange though. Nothing at all else matters. If I’m in a story, as I was when I wasn’t thinking about what I was saying or was about to say next when telling Beowulf, or if I’m observing the play that is happening and not thinking about the play that was or will be, there is no time. This isn’t to say that in these moments I’m not thinking: far from it, but I don’t have the words still or perhaps ever.

I’m reminded of something else said at the SLG talk: I was told, from the perspective of one seer there, that once you start trying to define this thing we’re calling magic, it loses its magic, or it isn’t there. She pushed away a tea cup! It’s like this. When I’m on the playground, and if I try to define what this ‘very now-ness’ is, as it is, there, it may cease to be. So, I try now with words to describe what I shouldn’t be trying to describe, because then, what I’m trying to describe gets lost.

Perhaps this is a particular problem of ‘those who see play’: ‘those who never will see play’ can’t be swayed because there are no words succinct enough. Yet, we try. Perhaps what we should do instead is smile benevolently (though some will no doubt see this as patronisingly) and not say anything at all. That’s difficult when you believe in something so strongly. Perhaps we should show this ‘seeing play’ by sitting and ‘just seeing play’. Others might follow suit, you never know. When you bother to look you just might see.

I had thought about telling another story at SLG, but never did. It was a brief version of Ernest Scott’s telling of Baba Ram Dass (formerly Dr Richard Alpert) when he trekked into the Himalayas to meet the guru sitting in the field. Scott writes that Alpert, as he then was, wanted to know what the whole deal was about LSD and that he thought the guru would know. The guru, an old man who’d never experienced such narcotics before, apparently, took several times the ‘starter’ dose, and Alpert waited anxiously for the inevitability of the after-effects. Nothing happened. The guru didn’t need the drugs: he was already there. So the story goes. You can connect your own dots . . .

When I’m hyper-focused on the play, or in the discussions, or in the thinking, or in the moment of the moment that is, there is no time. There is only ‘very now’. Stories help to fill in the edges of what we can’t fully describe, but ultimately what we feel, in the moment, should be acknowledged. All stories are true: they become things in themselves; moments, though, are tea cups that can disappear.

Protected: Why play? (An appearance of transformative soup)

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Play: soul, substance and belief

What you believe is true. Richard Garcia’s writing (The heart and soul of play) is the starting point for this post. Richard writes about play and love and soul and spirit which, after some time settling as a bookmarked ‘thing to remember’, I finally got round to commenting about. Richard’s writing has led me to think more on play, in this way. I’ve also been communicating with Arthur about haibun (you’ll need to look up haibun if you don’t know), and this thinking is also going to colour parts of what I’m about to write, I suspect.

My thinking has taken me on tracks of philosophy, phenomenology, word definitions, and the like: so I need to be clear here with all the tangled lines. This is the opening of it: what is it that this ‘soul’ of play is? Or rather, what is it that this soul of play appears to be? You see, we all see different things, of course.

It’s evening, just as the sun sets over the hill to the west. There’s a pastel red smear on the sky, which is sort of milky. I stand on the hill in the east and look down on the city. Orange lights are just starting to come on, here and there. I hear the sounds of skateboarders’ wheels before I see the skaters. They’re on the top level of the empty car park below me. They use the ramp from that level down to the next. I don’t hear them speak: they either don’t, or I’m too far away. No-one else can see them: they’re up above the city.

I watch them for twenty minutes. I think that this is play, though they themselves may not call it this. It’s play to me. What is it to them? I hear the sirens of an ambulance, or a fire engine, I can’t tell; then I see the blue lights in between the buildings somewhere in the city. I see the headlights of cars, nearer down there, and how they seem to be, with the nearby branches between me and them. I think how this interaction wouldn’t be if I were to stand a step to the side.

This isn’t a haibun, above, but haibun writing informs it. I’m also going to do a very unhaibun thing here and give a commentary on what I’ve just written. Here it is: ‘the skaters played’ because it appeared to me that this is what they were doing; likewise, the lights of the ambulance, or the fire engine, I couldn’t tell, played in between the buildings; the headlights of the cars played against the branches of the tree, from my perspective. Play was everywhere, perhaps.

I’m going to delve down a philosophical avenue now. If play is everywhere, that would imply that it is a ‘something’, that it is a ‘material’ thing: some substance in the universe, like particles. How can this be? I need to go back to the thinking of Descartes (and here I shall also loop back to what Richard Garcia wrote in ‘the heart and soul of play’): Descartes’ thinking on ‘soul’, as I understand it, was as an ‘immaterial substance’ (i.e. not the physical substance of the body). There is a link between ‘soul’ and ‘mind’: a brain has mass, but a mind does not.

Simply, if there are ‘material substances’ (like bodies) and ‘immaterial substances’ (like minds), what is play? It must be immaterial, right? Play isn’t comprised of physical particles, as the rest of the universe is. Yet, what is dark energy? Theoretical physicists say it’s essential in the universe, but they can’t say what it is (or what it’s made of). So, is play energy? It’s in all of us, after all.

What caused those skaters to skate, the lights of that ambulance (or fire engine, I couldn’t tell) to play between the buildings, the headlights to play against the branches? Was it the play energy of the universe? In a non-theological, non-religious way, if we humans can be seen to have a soul/mind, which isn’t a material substance like a body (i.e. there is an immaterial substance/something ‘in’ us), then immaterial substances do exist and can exist ‘out there’.

There is a word I’m rather taken with at the moment: immanence. This is about the idea of ‘being contained within’. In a religious sense, ‘God is within’. I’m not religious, so treat that as a metaphor. Play is within. Play is immanent, perhaps. At the same time, in this thinking, play is within everything — everything — and we live within play. It’s not a case of ‘now it’s play time’ because play is in all of this that we are, it is the fabric of our existence, and it is the fabric in which we exist.

We just have to see it, that’s the trick. It’s a matter of perspective, of seeing that the play of the skaters is play (in our view); that the play of the lights of the ambulance or the fire engine (whichever these lights actually belong to), between the buildings, is play; that the play of headlights against the branch, is play: it’s all some play. If we step to the side, we don’t see that play . . .

At the end of the day, what we believe is true.

About the very now

There is no time. There’s only now. Even now’s gone before we know it. So, there’s only very now. Every moment is absolutely unique, absolutely itself and special and new and weird; every moment is not any moment, it’s this moment. Then it’s gone, somewhere. We don’t always see the moments. I’ve been here before in my writing, but it’s worth revisiting because the subject of ‘time’ gets the better of all of us occasionally.

It’s difficult to write about ‘no time’ because words about time will creep in: ‘occasionally’, ‘sometimes’, ‘often’, ‘then’, ‘when’, ‘now’. So, I’m thinking and talking about ‘very now’ because this is the only phrase I can think of that comes anywhere near to describing ‘just right here and now . . .’ Yet, even before I finish the sentence, the ‘very now’ has, apparently, gone.

Children’s play, and any play, is very now. So, at last we have a context to this rambling. ‘At last’ we have a context. What happened before the Big Bang? Yes, I know, I know: Hawking and others (notably one annoyed brother!) would repeatedly sigh out loud at my question. Yes, in theory I know that nothing happened before the Big Bang because there was no time until the Big Bang, but really, honestly, I don’t get that at all. What happened before play?

This post is already going off in a direction I hadn’t considered or planned for. ‘Already’.  Step back: children’s play is very now. It has taken place today, yesterday, last week, last year, and it will happen next year, but whenever it takes place it’s very now . . . and then it’s something else. I want to step back a little further, to illustrate where I’m going, and then I’ll tell you the moral of my stories. Take a leap of faith here and follow me:

It’s 1976: that really hot summer which has passed into folklore here in the UK. It’s summer in my memory all that year. The school holidays stretch out around me in all directions. I’m not indoors at all, and one day blurs into the heat haze of the next. It’s just all pale blue, you know?

It’s 1984: Orwell’s future schemes don’t come to pass, and I find myself doing the ‘geeky and awkward at the disco’ thing! I’m hopeless in my adolescent play, but it’s the Eighties and I’m none the wiser just because Crockett and Tubbs, George Michael and Phil Oakley are advising me. I fall in love, approximately, and I get slapped and I make the same mistakes on a loop!

It’s 1989: I spend the whole year just in play. I pretend to go to University, but really I’m just being an artist, drinking beer, pretending to be an artist, falling in love, approximately, travelling, getting caught up in it all and being on my loop the loop.

It’s 1992: I spend the whole year in 1989, but in different permutations.

It’s 1996 or 1997 or sometime (‘sometime’) but it doesn’t matter: it’s when we sit in cafés being pretentious, attending poetry readings — bad poetry, so bad it’s good and notable and we announce Terry the Poet as our guru! — we travel back to Paris, pretentiously, but we know we do it and we turn it into irony, we write songs, record, start the ‘quite quiet revolution’, fall in rough approximations of love, loop and loop.

It’s 2005: I come home after (‘after’) my long sojourn away in various artistic endeavours, various places of children’s play away from home, I play with being home after time away (‘time’), I realise my own play has shifted and my love is richer, different, a love for now.

It’s 2013: I sit with a two year old who looks up at me for a second or so (‘second or so’), laughs and then wipes his snot over my jumper; I come into the room and a nearly four year old is ridiculously happy to see me and she jumps about just not getting her words out; I walk with a three year old through the busy High Street and we talk rubbish at each other! I’m in play, and I loop and I loop.

I’m here now: here I am. The now has already passed. The very now is the only way I can try to describe these moments of now: moments which are both singular spots in time and stretches of things that happen, each blurring into the heat haze of the next, looping and looping.

I promised you a moral to the story. It’s here: will you see the play of the very now with me? Will you leave thoughts of ‘play is good for the future development’, ‘play is an education for the future’, ‘play is learning so that the future will be better’? See the very small, the very now, and give it your love and attention. The very small and very now is often overlooked; yet the very small, the very now, threads through time. It’s no time, and in this no time we are made of moments.
Post script:

There is no time. There is only now. There is only very now. Very now disperses as soon as very now appears. Very now is every now, though every now is different. Very now is in all time, though there is no time. There is only now . . . (ad infinitum).

Ways of seeing: love

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; for love is sufficient unto love. And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course. Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself.

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (1926)
Inspired by my continuing open dialogue with Arthur (or diablogue, as is my learned colleague’s phrase), I’m thinking first and foremost here about love. Arthur noted that I’d cautiously buried the ‘l’-word deep down in the middle of my previous blog; to which I return with a ‘beat you round the head with love’ approach here and now! It is the love given by the child that I’m offering due thought to.

So that I don’t go over old ground, your reading of my previous blog immediately before this one will help: in reality, children love; love is beautiful, as I believe, and should be accepted.

The space between that last blog and this one is served, in part, by Arthur’s thinking on the ‘theory of mind’. This leads me to think on how we can ‘know’ another by knowing ourselves. That a child can ‘know’ me, or vice versa, when I’ve only just met them has been a source of several years’ worth of trying to understand. Arthur writes, in My eyes are thinking about what is behind your eyes: ways of seeing and theory of mind:

I now realise that ‘the theory behind the gaze’ is what distinguishes this intense seeing from the glance of an unthinking reactive playworker who tidies up my piece of cardboard while it is catching the light.

Children love. Why? My head has been buried in philosophy books, looking around linked and, as yet, unlinked ideas. I surface and hope my words come out in ways that are readable!
Love’s aim

According to Professor Owen Flanagan (of Duke University, North Carolina), Franz Brentano (Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, 1874) brought back the thinking of Aristotle and Aquinas when he discussed the idea of ‘intentionality’. Our conscious mind must be mindful of something. It has an intention, an object it aims towards. Mental states are aimed towards ‘objects’, which can be anything. Love is a mental state and I think of myself as the object, the intention, of a child’s love. In other words, the child’s mind has to be conscious of something, has to aim at something: I am the object of fascination, deemed worthy (when I am); I am loved.
Love as more

Dr Paul Gilbert, University of Hull, writes that ‘Plato viewed love as a desire for beauty, which should transcend the physical and even the personal, culminating in philosophy — the love of wisdom itself’.

In the light of most of this thinking I can view children in such ways. That is, because my mind understands something of a notion of beauty (albeit a personal one), I consider that others can do the same too, especially children. My belief is in tune with love as much more than merely physical and personal. Perhaps others have their own words for similar thoughts. What I can’t know, however, is what those thoughts of the children are: (a) because language isn’t necessarily good enough, in general, for such ideas to pass between two people (even here I’m struggling with words); (b) specifically, between myself and the child, word-language is unformed and perhaps inappropriate (it disrupts the bubble of the moment).

When we analyse (or over-analyse), we risk destroying the very thing that we’re looking at. I type that full stop and realise what I’m currently doing.
Archetypes and the mythic realm

If love transcends, or goes beyond, the physical and the personal, what does it amount to? Here I shall recycle some recent comments to Arthur, from memory. Here we’re into the realms of Carl Jung’s archetypes. It is, what I call (and perhaps others have done so too — I must have got it from somewhere) a mythic realm. That is, this is a dimension, a space, a place (but not a solid place) populated by characters we can all associate with: mother figure (not ‘mother’), joker/trickster, shadow figure. The child mind, or the mental state of love, is aimed towards (wants to ‘see’, connect with) these archetypes of this mythic realm. A child, more so than an adult, can more readily see what they might know as (if they had the words) The Wise One, The Knower, Seer, Understander. A child is not yet fully pressed into what the adults call the ‘real world’: the mythic realm is still a living space to the child.

When I am ‘seen’, am I seen because I’m in that mythic realm at that moment?
Inalienable love, or giving and receiving

I thought that love was not inalienable (that which cannot be transferred). In other words, I thought that love could be transferred, given out. Of course it can be given, but it doesn’t transfer to another person lock stock and barrel. It’s odd and cheesy to say it (it sounds like a cheesy old song), but the more you give it away the more it grows in you.

Why else might we, and children, give love? Do we give to receive love? Or is it the only true altruism, the only act of selflessness? I’m not so sure there is any such thing as altruism: no matter how noble or kind our act, we might always receive something in return (even if it’s ‘just’ the glow of knowing you have loved).

Perhaps we give love because, deep down, very deep down beyond the words and thoughts we understand, we are scared. We’re scared of aloneness (I use this word deliberately): life as a search for shared connection, connection to the archetypes we all associate with and understand at some level, a kind of ‘cure’ for solipsist thinking (that is, that my mind is the only mind I can truly know as true; therefore I can’t be sure of others; therefore this is my aloneness). Of course, by using the possessive that is ‘my’, this suggests that ‘I’ consider there also to be an ‘other’ or ‘others’ (‘you’, ‘them’), and my aloneness is not real at all. The only other way to think is to use ‘it’ instead of ‘I’: it is not at all certain about love.
Love as irrational

When we analyse (or over analyse), we do it in a very rational, logical way. However, much of what we do as humans is irrational — superstition and belief, for example. We are, as are human children, irrational creatures. I shouldn’t differentiate at all here between adults and children: we are all irrational creatures.

Love is irrational. It’s that concept again of how it grows bigger in you the more it gets depleted (given away). When children love, they don’t do so in rational analytical ways (in this model, and so I assume because I don’t know their minds for sure). Children love because you are there, because you have crossed over into the mythic realm (which they can see), because it is just necessary to do so.
Love and gravity

Sometimes love just can’t be helped.

Professor Adam Morton, University of Bristol, writes: ‘Your mind is like your weight’. Run with this with me . . . Your mind, that which you are. So, by extension, your mind is like your mass? Your gravity?

Love has a mass.* Its affect can be felt. I think of love as dark matter, holding the universe together, exerting gravity and being affected by the gravity of objects too. Sometimes love just can’t help but aim towards the gravity of others.

*Yes, I am aware that mass and weight are different things!
Occam’s razor

Back to Earth. There’s a philosophical principle called Occam’s razor, which suggests — in essence — that the simplest answer is the one to go with. Children love — why?

Love is imbued in us from an early age: a reaction to being loved; the more we receive, perhaps, the more we give back.

I can’t just leave it there though. Occam’s razor might suppose that the fewest amount of assumptions creates the most elegant solution, but I have to add in assumptions because that’s the nature of this enquiry!

Love is imbued in us from an early age: a reaction to being loved; the more we receive, perhaps, the more we give back, until/if we reach a point where society, culture, others’ fears suppress what we give out. Many children love because it is just what they do, in various ways, until they’re imposed upon differently.
Beyond Occam’s razor: into the light

In my rummaging in philosophy pages, I found something that I see as quite beautiful. I want to use it as a final idea here, but a pause in the overall and ongoing thinking on love.

Professor Hossein Ziai, University of California, writes about the Islamic Philosophy of Illumination, according to the 12th century Persian thinker Shihāb al-Dīn Yahyā Sohravardī: ‘Objects, depicted as lights, are inherently knowable because they include essential light that may be ‘seen’ by subjects who, recovering their own essential lightness, become self-cognisant and capable of ‘seeing’ the object’s manifest light-essence’.

Adult as light, and seen by the child.
* Main reference material: Honderich, T. (Ed) (1995), Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

%d bloggers like this: