Quick Look

Steve Martin, at play in Roxanne


Play is fun, imperfect, changeable, loose. Kids love it when your tower of blocks topples, but most adults may get cross, ’cause we’re always trying to Get It Right.
Especially for the Big Stuff (religion, politics, etc.), we have to Get It Right, and Getting It Right, can’t really be fun . . . . right?

The Tale

Shunryu Suzuki, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center in 1960, was asked the essence of Zen. “Two words,” he said. “Not always so.”

The Tale Wagged

Serious topic, but he was playing. He knew it was three words in English. So why did he say that? He was never flippant and respected the questioner, but his understanding of truth included fun, the imperfect. He was not attached to the kind of bulletproof stability most of us grew up expecting from “truth.” Suzuki took his mental activity less seriously than I take mine; he had what I’ve come to call The Twinkle.

If you want to learn about this kind of play, don’t examine most sports. Sports have become anything but play: in play, we’re not attached to the outcome, but in most American sports, outcome is all.

Nevertheless, in play we can, paradoxically, try to do our best. How? Mostly because play is no fun unless you try your darnedest! It IS fun to do well, as long as we don’t have to. In other words, if we don’t have to please some kind of Judge.

Ah! Maybe that’s it! It’s pleasing The Judge that makes it work. It’s no fun to take on a challenge when some Judge is sternly criticizing every move. We must be able to drop it when the closing bell rings.

Most of the contented and respected people I’ve observed applied themselves diligently, but also let their mistakes show. No one would ever call them “slackers”, but they viewed themselves as process, changing and imperfect. They were clearly not intimidated by the Judge. They seem to feel their inner monitor is more like a trusted Coach. They’re vulnerable.

Yeah, but how do we put it into practice?

This week, play at a thing that makes you uptight; experiment with doing something that frightens you. Here’s some easy starters:

  • Take a different, even wasteful, route to work.
  • Let a kid boss you around (really do what they say – wholeheartedly). Don’t condescend: seriously ask them what to do next, and then do it.
  • Waste time.

About RayMunn

Husband, father, Zen guy, web designer, film-maker.
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