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

Posts tagged ‘universe’

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.


On teaching, learning, wisdom

One of the things I would do if I were going to teach a child, I would as quickly as possible get out of any model that I was going to teach this child. That is, by hanging out with this child and saying, ‘OK, now what?’ You see?

Baba Ram Dass (1970), from Doing Your Own Being.
I come back to Baba Ram Dass in my reading. I’ve been thinking this week on teaching and learning, and from several perspectives: there is my own journey of learning (and here I’m not talking about academic learning); there is my role as a teacher, of sorts, of adults; I think of my adult learners; I think of children at play and what they receive from this play.

There is a tension of adult and child in the dynamic of play-based relationships. There is a tension of humility and assertion in the dynamic of adult/adult ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ relationships. I’ve often felt these tensions and have a need to explore, to think as I write.

In his lecture at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, in May 1970, Baba Ram Dass (formerly the psychologist Dr. Richard Alpert) discusses teaching and learning. He adds, regarding his thinking on if he were to teach a child:

‘I am now under the model that the child already knows everything, and my job on myself is to thin the veils that keep me from knowing it all, and to not contribute to increasing the veils that keep him from knowing it all, right?’

This ‘work on the self’, it seems, is critical. It feeds into all aspects of the perspectives and tensions I list above: my own journey of learning (or wisdom); my skills as a teacher (both academic and as an open being); the journey of my adult learners, and my interactions with them; children at play, and my interactions with them too.

Ram Dass discusses how, in an ideal world, he’d like there to be a programme for ‘teachers to work on themselves.’ He says:

‘I think I would be inclined to surround children with as high a consciousness as I could find . . . I would put [these ‘teachers’] in an environment with these kids where whatever the vehicle [the moment of learning possibility] was, the teacher saw that as merely a vehicle for us to become conscious together . . . I’ll play for the long shot that they [the children] will open to the universe, which is within them.’

When I’m with children, I’m not teaching them as such: playwork isn’t about this. I have heard the argument, however, that there is a necessary dynamic of ‘informal teaching/learning’. Perhaps this is true. Perhaps the flow of what the adult knows can’t help but be passed on to the child. However, I’m not necessarily the ‘highest consciousness’ at any given time. I have learnt a great deal from children, and I’m not talking about ‘knowledge’ the way the education system sees it. Ram Dass also concludes:

‘Sometimes [the highest being is] the teacher and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s a kid.’

We shouldn’t read ‘highest being’ as something or someone aloof. We should read it in terms of ‘being wise’. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge.

Recently, I read a beautiful comment on another blog post. Laura Grace Weldon writes, in her blog, about the concept of educating too early, which is itself an inspiring read. However, one of the comments to that post also caught my attention:

‘What these high-minded early education experts don’t recognise (or don’t care about since all they want is to feed the education system) is that our civilisation is best served by people who have learned how to love, how to direct themselves, how to enjoy their own company in quiet, how to discover and create and imagine, how to be within the real world not some fake environment where sitting still is more important than anything their bodies and beautiful brains inspire them to do.’

This speaks to me of the acquired wisdom of children, but also of the acquired wisdom of the writer.

So what of my perspectives and tensions on teaching and learning?
My own journey of learning (or wisdom)

If I’m open, here and present, I’m able to see the way others inspire me. When I’m closed it’s because I’m ‘stuck’ in cycles of not understanding the self, of ego, of past and future thoughts. If I’m open I may see high consciousness in any other, irrespective of age. There’s a tension even here in the writing of these thoughts: these are notes for my own work on myself; these are notes that may read as directed at the reader. I write them in order to think them out. I keep the rest to myself. You find your own way.
My skills as a teacher (both academic and as an open being)

In his prologue to the transcription of Ram Dass’ lecture, Ernest Scott writes that the former Dr. Alpert began to feel ‘the pretence that those who were teaching, knew’.

If we teach, or try to teach, do we really ‘know’ at all? The tension of humility and assertion is always there. How much more can I help my adult learners, by standing back and being the medium through which their own desire to find something out is played?
The journey of my adult learners, and my interactions with them

If I input information directly, will it stay in there as well as if the learner who is ‘ready’ absorbs such things? Reading books is all very well (of course, the playwork literature is important), but ‘information’ is not the same as the experienced feeling of the moment in playwork. It is ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’.

How shall I guide and not pollute that journey any other is on?
Children at play, and my interactions with them too

If I’m privileged to be invited into children’s play, I feel I’m invited in because of who I am, at that time, in that moment. I’m usually not invited in as a teacher, though sometimes children have asked questions because they want information. (‘What’s that?’ Gack said to me recently, as he got in really close to a yellow and black version of the ladybird family crawling over a wooden bench). Mostly, in play interaction with children, I feel I’m in it because I’m not teaching, because I won’t teach, because the children seem to sense this. I feel this because, the moment I slip into a more widely understood adult-child dynamic (a small frustration, or a more assertive request of mine to the child), there’s often a subtle (or not-so-subtle) shift in their demeanour towards me.

If I think it to be a good idea to input some ‘knowledge’, directly, into an interaction of play, I’m often ignored. It’s because the child isn’t ready. They come to learning of their own accord. These are notes to remind myself of constantly.
Things the ‘thinking whilst writing it’ has shown me

Teaching and learning has its tensions, as does work with other adults and with children. It is my learning, my absorption of information, that tells me that play is play because it is play: it is of the moment, and the moment is all. However, much more than this, in words I can’t really write because I don’t know how to, my experience shows me that play is the feeling of now. Play is the wisdom of now. It may not be a feeling or concept I can adequately teach. It may just be a concept that has to play itself through me.

Baba Ram Dass concludes:

‘The whole history of knowledge is as a drop in the bucket compared with wisdom. We’re trying to preserve something and what we’re doing is preserving at the cost of something much, much higher than is what we really want. We would like to train for wisdom, not knowledge. And what we’re training for is knowledge, because we can measure it. But knowledge is not convertible, necessarily, into human happiness or well-being. Wisdom is, because wisdom is learning to live . . . in harmony with the world at the moment it is.’

Being one with the Universal space of play

My thinking, lately, is concerned with the ego that is ‘playworker’. I’m putting together some thoughts for a presentation that will take place, though this is focused on a different subject matter, and it’s a couple of months down the line anyway. However, the thoughts are directing me towards ‘purpose’ and ultimately about ‘I am a playworker.’ Ego. I playwork therefore I am? Opus ludo ergo sum? (I never learnt Latin, does it show?)

Now, I’m struggling with this thinking on ego. You see, when I’m with the children, it’s not about me. This is my understanding and belief. This is what’s ingrained in me. There’s a great line in a film, the title of which I forget, but the line is delivered, I seem to remember, by Bob Hoskins: ‘I’m here to serve you, but I’m not your servant.’

This is kind of the colour of what I see my playwork practice to be, as it stands. Yet, in serving, how can there be any such thing as absolute altruism? I mean, whatever we do when we give ourselves, no matter how much we truly want to do it for someone, there’s still something small that we get from it ourselves. Can there ever be such a thing as getting absolutely nothing back and being content with that no return? Even ‘being content with getting nothing back’ is getting something back: contentedness. As I say, I’m struggling with this: working with- and for- the children really isn’t about me, right?

Here’s another start point. Yesterday I wrote about a quote, about a rose, that arose in me. So, I find myself reading that book again: that transcription of a talk given forty years ago by the former Dr. Richard Alpert, about his journey of self-discovery. Here’s a story he shares, or a part-story, at least:

Ram [an incarnation of Vishnu, the Preserver]’s wife is taken away by the bad man, Ravina . . . and Ram, of course, is beside himself, because his wife’s been taken away, you know . . . He’s determined to find her. He goes to the king of the monkeys and he asks for help. The king of the monkeys assigns his monkey lieutenant, Hanuman, to serve Ram. Hanuman becomes the perfect servant. Hanuman is a representative of pure, unadulterated service. He’s not serving in order to take over Ram’s job. He’s not serving in order to get patted on the head by Ram. He’s just serving because he serves. And Ram says to him, ‘Hey, Hanuman, who are you, man, monkey?’ And Hanuman says, ‘When I don’t know who I am, I serve you. When I know who I am, you and I are one.’

Baba Ram Dass (1970), Doing Your Own Being, speaking of a story in the Ramayana, Indian holy book.

On my own journey, where I am at this exact here and now, this appeals to me. There is still the concern of the ‘I’, of the potential of ego (but maybe I’m reading this incorrectly, or maybe I’m not centred enough, or maybe our language isn’t full and rich enough to allow such expressions as those that are trying to be conveyed); there’s still the concern of the ‘I’, but ultimately I read: When I don’t know who I am, I serve you, children. When I know who I am, you and I are one.

When I don’t know who I am? Am I not playworker? No, it’s not this. When I don’t know/realise that I’m part of everything, I serve, because that’s what I can do, must do, just do. When I do know that I’m part of everything . . . well, I found this following story in my play writings:

Notebook, February:

I’m sitting cross-legged on the mat in the middle of the main room, waiting for the rest of the children to arrive. When they do, they put their stuff in the cloakroom, as usual, and – as they pass me on their way to the other side of the room – a couple of the children ruffle my hair without saying a word. It is a hello, but also more.

In Buddhist thinking (I came across the following, somewhere, once, and as I’m prone to do, logged it in my memory but forgot where it came from), the concept of egolessness is not about ‘going beyond the ego’; rather, we realise that there is no ego to start with.

If we strip away the thought of ego, the Universe can flow through all. Being conscious, egoless, connects us with the essentialness (or whatever we term it, in the here and now of where we are each at) of others.

Samadhi, from the Sanskrit, is (according to the great Wiki in the sky): ‘a higher level of concentrated meditation . . . a non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object, and in which the mind becomes still . . .’

Egolessness, Samadhi, could all be perceived as irrational, I suppose; though we think we live in a rational material world, seeking concrete proofs, we forget to know. I’m not talking about knowing stuff; I’m talking about the knowing that happens when you’re conscious, clear, open, at one.

So, I was conscious, clear, and the children ruffled my hair without words, knowing, I felt, and they went on their way to the other side of the room, and the moment that is became the moment that was. I knew who I was, I think. When I’m not so sure, I serve, because that is what I just do. It isn’t about me. I think.

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