Monday, June 22, 2009

Sacred Play

Just hearing those two words together – sacred – play – doesn’t really seems like they fit. Sacred denotes solemn, earnestness, serious – sounds more like work! How could a word like sacred team up with a word like ‘play’?

Where does it show up in religion, in spirituality?

Looking at world religions – if we look – we see that there are the elements of play in every single one.

Zen Masters, Hasidic storytellers, Muslim Mystics – are full of stories that are playful, humorous and valuable and respected. Why is play useful to the spiritual seeker? Because the playfulness lowers our analytical instincts, brings down our ‘life is serious’ radar screen. Play opens us up….and when the story ending is unexpected – when it is humourous and not serious - it stops our mind. We see that there is something profound. What we thought was silly – is actually incredibly wise.

The word "silly" derives from the Greek "selig" meaning "blessed." There is something sacred in being able to be silly.

There is something special that happens when we play – because we are not using our logical or analytical brain – we are doing something – but for no purpose. Most of the time it is non-productive. Doesn’t make anything.

While we are engaged in play – what is happening to the rest of our being – while we are focused on fun and silliness? the rest of our being has a chance to rest, revive itself, take a break from the seriousness of life.

Play is Natural – people everywhere play – in all cultures, in all part of the world. Archeologists have discovered games that were used thousands of years ago. Games are something everyone can do – you don’t need anything. Even a child with nothing, will find a string, or a rock or a branch and in no time have created a play world.

Play begs us to use our imagination – it invokes our curiosity. Things/qualities that we don’t often use in every day life.

Play encourages us not to take ourselves too seriously. Play is the exuberant expression of our being. It is at the heart of our creativity and our most carefree moments of devotion. It helps us live with paradox and mystery. It feeds our joy and wonder. Play helps us in our search for meaning.

Play often elicits laughter and joy. Pure and simple. And we know the benefits and healing aspects of laughter. Laughter heals body, mind, and soul.

In rare moments of deep play, we can lay aside our sense of self, shed time's continuum, ignore pain, and sit quietly in the absolute present, watching the world's ordinary miracles. No analyzing or explaining. No questing for logic. No promises. No goals. No relationships. No worry. One is completely open to what may unfold. — Diane Ackerman in Deep Play

When we play, we sense no limitations. In fact, when we are playing, we are usually unaware of ourselves. Self-observation goes out the window. We forget all those past lessons of life, forget our potential foolishness, forget ourselves. When we immerse ourselves in the act of play we become free.

Play is for the moment; it is not hurried, even when the pace is fast and timing seems important. Play is a vital part of a spiritually enriching life. it has an important role in the spiritual life.

Of course seriousness and earnestness and work have a place in our lives. If you take just a moment to review – even the last week – you can probably easily see that most of the time you were not playing.

Most of us don't play enough. We're either too "busy,” or we're too serious, mistaking earnestness for accomplishment. We equate free-spiritedness with irresponsibility. The best treatment for these conditions is play. We need to lighten up.

As human beings, as spiritual beings, we need to be part of a healthy rhythm. Like breathing – in and out. This is part of what keeps us alive. And an easy rhythm of work and play is also what keeps us alive and healthy.

This natural rhythm is established even in the beginning of our spiritual heritage – in the creation story in Genesis. If we look at the story of creation it says: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth….And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it." Genesis 1:1; 2:2, 3.

That is what we call the Sabbath. A day of rest, recreation, play. A time for renewal.

You might say our week is spent in creation – our work, our homes, our relationships – are all under construction in one way or another. The Sabbath is a day to cease our creating; to rest and appreciate what we have done.

Keeping the Sabbath separates our doing from our being. The work from the play. Sabbath is not one particular day of the week. It is any time we take a rest from our usual activites. Every day we can do this - even for a few minutes.

Our play time is sacred. It is part of the Divine Order of the universe. Keeping time with the rhythm of creation. a time of bringing us back to wholeness.

Practice play by doing things on the spur of the moment.

Take time out to experiment.

Laugh heartily at jokes, situations, and yourself. Laughter is a holy thing. It is as sacred as music and silence and solemnity, maybe more sacred. Laughter is like a prayer, like a bridge over which creatures tiptoe to meet each other. Laughter is like mercy; it heals. When you can laugh at yourself, you are free. (from website)

From the book Spiritual Literacy: Playing around is a good and holy thing. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. It enables us to express ourselves, to use our intuition and imagination, to savor pleasure and the lightness of being, and to make our humble contribution to the unfinished masterpiece of the world.


A student went to see his meditation teacher and said, “My situation is horrible! I feel so distracted most of the time, or my legs ache, or I’m repeatedly falling asleep. It’s terrible.” Said the teacher matter-of-factly, “It will pass.”
A week later, the student returned to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive!” “It will pass,” replied the teacher.

Dear God, Are You really invisible or is it just a trick? Lucy.