“The angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”G.K Chesterton
Why NOT play?
I find the above question way more colorful to contemplate, because it answers the matter of why we SHOULD play in a paradoxical way. From my own experience, many an argument to NOT play consists of the following components:
1. Life is fickle and death is permanent, therefore we must make the most of being alive.
2. The universe outside our skin is chaotic, unintelligent, and indifferent. Life is unpredictable, and therefore must do what we can to ensure survival.
3. Science and technology has replaced God. Only through deeds we bring order into life, and thus we are responsible for our actions.
Notice that the three premises can feed into each other at any given point. One can easily argue that the universe is chaotic, but yet it is man and not God who is responsible for agriculture and civilization; likewise it can be said that our lives are our responsibility, therefore any kind of non-productive behavior is an affront to the collective progress/ survival of mankind.
Yuval Noah Harari’s second book, Homo Deus, is aptly named so because it illustrates the current state of mankind: near-Godlike, approaching immortality. Thanks to science and technology, our lives today are better than that of our ancestors, and yet you don’t have to be Alan Watts or Yuval Noah Harari to know that something’s amiss. With prosperity and good stuff around, why are our lives are led in quiet desperation? Why is it that the most civilized countries are plagued by skyrocketing depression and suicide rates? Why are we under the constant compulsion to make life better?
Our lives are colored with quiet desperation because we must do job we hate to keep on living, so that we can continue doing these jobs to prolong our lives so that we can repeat. We keep on keeping on because it’s a necessity to do so on an individual level, while society sings accolades of ‘improving’ humanity on a bigger level to make you feel as if your participation contributes to the greater good. If you fail to do so, you are branded a ‘failure’ by society because you’ve failed to contribute, failed to keep on keeping on. After all, the responsibility is all on you because you failed despite having access to the comfort and productivity of a god (hence the name Homo-Deus). Thus, you find yourself in an insoluble problem.
It’s beautiful because you pop into the world not knowing how or why you exist; only to be sucked into a masochistic system that frightens and coerces you into ‘volunteering’ to be a part of it. Growing up means that endless responsibilities pile on, but you don’t question it because nobody does. And when you finally realize what’s up, you need to stop because it’s killing you but doing so means that you die anyway. So you keep on, believing in a lucky break that will save you from all that suffering and give you that happily-ever-after to justify it all. You become a slave to your desires because you believe they might be the one to set you free but really, you end up fighting for scraps of happiness you can get from a living hell.
And we wonder why life became such a drag.
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?Matthew 6:26-30
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
Must we keep on keeping on?
Really, there is no need to keep on living. I may sound cynical, but that is because your problems all disappear when you’re dead. But when we place far too much importance on ourselves and what others think of us, every little action comes under scrutiny, we become burdened with obligations, and we trade the universe for a compulsion-based reality that holds no room for uncertainty or love.
Can recognize that the compulsion to keep going on as the mind trying to justify the importance of ‘poor little me’, or the ego per say? If you ever paid attention as your mind went silent, do you not see the perfection, the OK-ness inherent in this moment? What can the fear of death do to you then when everything in life is already perfect? What more can you ask for?
Paradoxically, by dropping the ego’s fear and compulsion to survive, we lose our fear of death. That we are not a separate entity in a cold, indifferent world, but rather the temporary expression of a living, wonderful universe. From the universe you came, and unto it you will return, for you are the universe just as much as it is you, after all.
But what about all those responsibilities and obligations? Be present, and find out.
“You need a reason to be sad. You don’t need a reason to be happy.”Louis Sachar
I say this not as a figure of authority, but as a friend who wants you to stop worrying and have fun. As Rumi puts it, you’ve spent half your life trying to charm others, and the other spent drowning in your anxiety, why not stop now?
As I outlined in the previous chapter, the reason why play is so engaging is because it is pleasurable. Games are fun because they combine discipline and love, creating a virtuous cycle built on mastery and enthusiasm, hence why gamers can commit years and even decades to a game that they love. But the principle behind play and pleasure applies to everything that we do, making everyday life the perfect place to start.
Why not enjoy proof-reading documents by challenging yourself to explain it to 5-year-olds? Why not enjoy dish-washing by turning it into a dance? Why not enjoy service by trying to connect with the customers and brightening their day? And if things don’t go well, it’s an opportunity to remain present and practice unconditional acceptance in the moment or it’s time to walk away. Either way, if you turn life into a game, then happiness becomes the path itself, and you don’t have to wait for that lucky break because you are already happy. What better way could there be to live?
Why wait to start living? You have absolutely no reason to.