As magical children, we all know we can play with our own minds – we do it all day long. For most of us, the process of becoming adults includes taming that bright, creative organ into a beast of burden. We are guided to transform that toy into a tool: a responsible, adult mind that will work and worry for us and others– and make sure that everything is safe and good according to the rules of whatever game we have learned. For those of us who identify as artists, we at least have windows of creative play free from worry, where we can stay in touch with our childish whims. But for much of our time as adults, we are employing our minds to work, fix, control, plan, and generally avoid disaster.
As a student of spiritual growth, an important part of the process is to learn how to play again. To recover that unabashed joy of the child who can dance, and draw, and sing, and who never worries about how it might look to others. When we are in play, we are not afraid. We love what we are doing, and we are doing it in joy. If something happens that we do not like, we handle it and move quickly back into play. That is a great thing to remind our minds as we unravel the cords that bind us so tightly and keep us from our joy.
In meditation with my spiritual teacher Wendy, she suggested that she saw an image of a long loop almost like a belt running through my abdomen and over my head in a closed circle. Looping through me and over me. We looked at it and it appeared to me to be like a long paper loop, layers upon layers of paper, like an almost endless roll of fortune cookie sayings in print. All the warnings and admonitions of a lifetime. She helped me to envision unraveling it; winding off layer after layer, placing the lines of text into a small fire. I kept at it. But after an awkwardly long time, the loop was still thick.
I wanted to just put it all into the fire and poof! It would be all gone. But even in this spiritual play that we were doing, true to the serious child I always was, I had to report the sad fact of the matter: this long loop of advice was not going away – there were still many miles of it, around and around. I told her I needed to take it home and keep meditating on it. She said, “Good. There are treasures in there for you.” What a lovely way to view past messaging. Treasures do not have to be only what we find, but also what we find we can let go of! The knowledge that we no longer need something is a treasure of great value that lessens our burdens and frees us up for more play.
I lay in bed that evening unraveling, unraveling for hours. I kept the fire going and tore bits of text off the end of the seemingly endless roll, and still there was more. It never got thin and I never got to the end. Finally around 3:00 a.m. I decided to try to burn the whole rest of the coil of advice. I saw it would not bend and I could not break it. So I made the bonfire big enough and hot enough to toss the whole belt of words into the flame. As it burned, I saw it break into four segments, like the four directions. There was a section of advice from Mother, from Father, from my older siblings, and then from all of society. Lots of advice! When I looked at it from my place of neutrality, I saw it was all well-meant. All good advice, from someone else’s point of view, about how to be safe and accepted.
As I saw it all burn to nothing, I wondered if I could remember some of the phrases and warnings, like trying to remember what an old fortune cookie said. What was the overall picture? What is the central message, if any? So many, many words! I found that I could translate that whole unraveled corset of words into two small bone earrings with a condensed message. One earring said SHOULD. The other said SHOULD NOT. I put these earrings into the fire and watched the bone turn to charcoal and then ash. The gold alone remained, a testimony to the good will and kind intentions of all my advisors.
Of course this is all silliness. There was no “real” fire and there were no real bone earrings. Nor has any computed tomography scan revealed a loop of paper with words on it implanted in my flesh and bone, knit into my muscle and sinew and woven in among my intestinal loops. Entering through the stomach and exiting through the lower back, making an awkward lump under my raincoat and impeding lovemaking. It is all make-believe. So what could be the possible value of any of this make-believe, this silliness, this play? I don’t know. My analyzing mind warns me that this is just self-indulgent mental masturbation, a distraction from the real things of life. The very real things of work and worry.
And yet one important thing became clear, even to my analyzing mind, as I played with these images and visions, unraveling this coil. The thousands of bits of warnings and advice and corrections and admonitions on my long, sinuous tape are NO MORE REAL than my imagined fire, my earrings, or anything else I choose to think. The fortune cookie list of advice that I drank in along with my mother’s milk from the very day I was born into this body is NO MORE REAL than any other part of the story I choose to live in. And as an adult, I do not have to continue to live in the stories that other well-meaning people have written into my script.
Through this spiritual work, really spiritual play, I have experienced that I can free my mind from some of the make-believe fetters that I have imagined and used to confine myself. We have all seen children who are suddenly released from school, car, house and run joyfully, blissfully, into an open space of nature, park or playground. Free! Those children are not running to fix something, to control something, to make someone wrong so they can be right. They are running to play and have fun with a wide-open heart and a sense of impending joy. They are fulfilled in the very moment of their release, already in the here and now, already playing full-hearted as they run toward play.
When my son was five or so, he came bursting out of his room one summer morning, and exclaimed joyfully, with an excited face and shining eyes: “I really, really want to do something SO MUCH, but I don’t know what it is!” I assured him that I knew that feeling, that eager summer morning feeling, of open possibilities and a day of play ahead. Of course we must always be in the here and now, but the here and now of standing on that precipice of knowing we are about to fly out into joyful play is a wonderful place to be. Thank you Wendy, for playing with me. A world of possibilities has opened up, and my heart is full and beating.
(written by guest blogger Lorane)