Imagine a young child playing in a sandbox with a set of dinosaurs, dolls, or just sticks and rocks. What do you see in your mind’s eye? Is what the child is doing meaningful or significant beyond merely passing time, amusing itself? Can you sense the level of engagement and concentration, creative energies, curiosity, and imagination that make this time magical and transformative, a place of learning and life exploration?
When children play they are exploring how to be human beings. They are exercising many skills that can serve them as adults, but are all too often shut down by an educational process that places value on things other than creativity and self-directed exploration. This is as true for the sciences as it is for the arts, and even those people who remember how to play as they grow up are faced with the apparent problem of how to handle the “practical” side of life; as if it where something entirely different from their creative and imaginative activities.
It has long seemed to me that play is essentially an energy, or state of being, rather than a limited set of activities, either as children or adults. Your imagining of a child at play above, is itself a form of play. Creative imagination is a major tool of spiritual evolution and practice as well as being necessary for invention and problem solving in the “practical” world. If practical means effective and useful, play can be very practical. The core of scientific research or creative engineering is essentially play; try something and see what happens. This is how we learn. Edison tried a thousand ways to make a light bulb before he succeeded.
One of the first “lessons” I received when I started doing readings for people was that play is an attitude that can be applied with good effect anywhere in life, to any aspect. We can bring playful qualities with us to work, or anywhere else that we choose, not as a caricature of goofy silliness, but as effective tools to transform our experience and to enhance our productivity, as well as our enjoyment.
Consider: children in a sand box or with a doll house; an artist in the creative flow; a scientist pursuing the expression of a new idea; the master of any art or skill exercising that skill. Conventionally we call some things play and others work, but are they not essentially the same? is there not a creative process that is joyous and fulfilling, productive and practical, even when it seems to come from imagination or dream?
So if play is this fundamental, an energy that is an aspect of Spirit, that expresses spiritual creativity in the world, how does it show up in the universe at large?
When asked why he objected to Quantum Mechanics as a theory, Einstein famously said that he did not believe God played dice with the universe. If there is a playful aspect to the universe though, is it not there in the possibilities of the quantum world? Or perhaps the sunsets of Colorado, each different, each a master piece? Or what we call evolution, the creation of new species, from whales to viruses? In all cases there are many repetitions, but none are ever quite the same.
If the fundamental nature of the physical world is one of possibilities, that interactions or “events” apparently choose between in a random, or individually unpredictable way; is this not a form of play? All possible outcomes are present, until one is chosen. Is this so different from a child’s imagination in the sandbox? especially if all the possibilities actually are chosen in some alternate branch of “reality”?
The universe is constantly exploring options and possibilities, why not ourselves? The universe is constantly creating itself and so can we. Opening to living Spirit as a playful process, invite it into your life, especially the serious bits. As adults we have been told that we need to be serious about life. Perhaps Life is not so serious about itself. When a child can’t let go of its game and come to eat, we worry. Why? When a person can’t let go of work and come to eat, or dance, or watch a sunset, isn’t this the real worry?
The power of play is that it is transformative. Give yourself permission to be playful; solutions will appear, assistance show up, and new possibilities drop in through imagination and dream. Allowing yourself to be playful, the universe, Spirit, can come and play with you, co-creating playfully, even in the serious things. Have fun, enjoy, and chop wood and carry water.