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To Play or Not To Play June 6, 2020

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“Let us look at the matter thus: May we not conceive each of us living beings to be a puppet of the Gods, either their plaything only, or created with a purpose-which of the two we cannot certainly know? But we do know, that these affections in us are like cords and strings, which pull us different and opposite ways, and to opposite actions; and herein lies the difference between virtue and vice. According to the argument there is one among these cords which every man ought to grasp and never let go, but to pull with it against all the rest; and this is the sacred and golden cord of reason, called by us the common law of the State; there are others which are hard and of iron, but this one is soft because golden; and there are several other kinds. Now we ought always to cooperate with the lead of the best, which is law.” (Book 1)


– from The Laws by Plato


Yoga Sutra 2.23: svasvāmiśaktyoh svarūpopalabdhihetuh samyoga


– “The union (yoga), alliance, or relationship between our power to see (and what we see) is the way to experiencing our own true nature.”


I’m going to acknowledge, right off the bat, that there are other ways to work – or explore or play – with the sutra of the day. I’ll even go so far as to say that if we were encountering this sutra at almost any other time, even on this day in any other year, I would definitely be all about the play. Play is, after all, essential to our growth and is also an element of the Divine. In Hinduism, divine play is lila (or leela) and the concept occurs in non-dualism Indian philosophy (as a way to describe everything in the universe as the outcome of creative play) and in dualism Indian philosophy (as the interaction between God and God’s disciples, in order to understand the nature of the universe). If you are having a hard time telling the difference, do not despair… play around with it a little.

“According to my view, any one who would be good at anything must practise that thing from his youth upwards, both in sport and earnest, in its several branches: for example, he who is to be a good builder, should play at building children’s houses; he who is to be a good husbandman, at tilling the ground; and those who have the care of their education should provide them when young with mimic tools. They should learn beforehand the knowledge which they will afterwards require for their art.” (Book 1)

And what is the right way of living? Are we to live in sports always? If so, in what kind of sports? We ought to live sacrificing, and singing, and dancing, and then a man will be able to propitiate the Gods, and to defend himself against his enemies and conquer them in battle. The type of song or dance by which he will propitiate them has been described, and the paths along which he is to proceed have been cut for him.” (Book 7)


– from The Laws by Plato


“Life must be lived as play, playing certain games, making sacrifices, singing and dancing, and then a man will be able to propitiate the gods, and defend himself against his enemies, and win in the contest.”


– Dutch philosopher Johan Huizinga summarizing Plato (in Homo Ludens)

Outside of Indian religion and philosophy, you find a similar concept in the ancient Greek philosophers and in forms of ecstatic dance (which exists in various Christian traditions, as well as in Judaism, the Sufism, various Shamanism, and Santeria). You also find it in sacred text. For example, in First Corinthians 3:18 -19, Saint Paul (and Sosthenes), the people who make up the Christian Church in Corinth (Greece) are instructed, “Let no one deceive himself: If anyone among you thinks himself to be wise in this age, let him become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (Berean Literal Bible) Some translations state that the “wise” should “become fools.” A little later in the letter, the authors will speak of “put[ting] away childish things” (1st Corinthians 13:11 -12); which many people see as a reference to physical age/maturity – when, in fact, the authors are speaking of spiritual maturity. There is, then, an implication in the text that all wisdom here on Earth is, actually, foolishness and that as long as we only “see” the material world (and ourselves in the material world) there is a need to keep playing. (This dove-tails back to the sutra and to Plato, in that there is a definite purpose to playing.)

“On the contrary, Augustine says (Music. ii, 15): ‘I pray thee, spare thyself at times: for it becomes a wise man sometimes to relax the high pressure of his attention to work.’ Now this relaxation of the mind from work consists in playful words or deeds. Therefore it becomes a wise and virtuous man to have recourse to such things at times.”


– from Summa Theologica (2a 2ae, 168 3) by Saint Thomas Aquinas

Saint Thomas Aquinas not only points to the need to play, as a way to rest the soul, he also provides very specific guidelines for spiritual. Additionally, in the Second Part of the Second Part of the Summa, when addressing question 168, he cautions against excessive play, as well as “the sin” of too little play. With regard to the guidelines, first and foremost, he says that “[play] should not be sought in indecent or injurious deeds or words” and, ultimately, that “we must be careful, as in all other human actions, to conform ourselves to persons, time, and place, and take due account of other circumstances, so that our fun ‘befit the hour and the man,’ as Tully says (De Offic. i, 29).”

All of this to say that the theme(s) for today beg(s) for a little divine play, as the sutra indicates such interaction helps us to better understand the universe and our place in the universe. Also, in the past, I have played today (mostly at the Y) to celebrate the day the YMCA was founded by George Williams in 1844. I have always endeavored to balance the play with an element of seriousness as today is also the anniversary of D-Day (1944). Add to that everything else that is happening in the world, in my little piece of the world, and in my personal world, and sometimes even I find it hard to play. However, even though I am super late in posting, we are still having class at Noon today.

It is up to you if you play, explore, or work during the 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, June 6th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Today’s playlist will be available on YouTube and Spotify. (Links will be available on Zoom and I will update this page, with links, after the class. If you are not feeling particularly playful, you can use the playlists titled “06032020 How Can We See, Dr. Wiesel.”)

Another way, to refresh and restore your body today is with free (outdoor) acupuncture available in Saint Paul today(11 AM – 5 PM, see details here).


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