Play Your Way

More than just frivolity, play helps you learn, create, discover, connect, relax, maintain health and stay present (not to mention belly laugh.) 

The Purpose of Purposelessness (Part 4 of 4)

What if life itself is purposeless?

woman in natureHappiness--and the Purposeless, Non-Achieving Mind


To the Indian guru, Osho: "[Life] is a cosmic play, a continuous beautiful game, a beautiful hide-and-seek--not leading anywhere. Nowhere is the goal." And, since Osho regards the world itself as essentially goal-less, he adds that "you need not be worried about individual purposes, evolution, [or] progress." In fact, in his view: " . . . progress is the basic disease of the modern age. What is the need?" . . .

What Osho is talking about here is how the "addiction" to advancement undermines (and can even destroy) the sheer pleasure of be-ing, of mindful awareness and aliveness to all the joys life has to offer--or can offer if you cultivate the right perspective toward it. Which is a perspective able to value things independent of their pragmatic value.

As I've already discussed in an earlier post--sub-titled "Spontaneity and Happiness"--living vibrantly in the now and without the hindrance of self-consciousness is ideally suited to foster a greater sense of well-being. Csiksentmihalyi, who originated the concept of flow, speaks of how space and time disappear when you're satisfyingly immersed in the present. This is a state that, however unforced and uncontrived, is much more likely to create the experience of happiness than any behavior (or set of behaviors) rigorously calculated to "manufacture" it. And even though while "in flow" you may put tremendous energy into what you're doing, what is central to this state has little to do with effort or intensity. Rather, your actions in flow permit you to "play" at life--and with whatever degree of seriousness you choose. To play in a manner that expresses that which is most vital in you. And in this optimal state of consciousness, your "process" of creative absorption takes on its own reason for being. In other words, "nowhere is the goal." Nor does it matter whether we're playing seriously--or working playfully.

In philosophically vindicating the "aimless goal" of non-purposive play, Osho argues that the non-achieving mind consonant with it "is possible only with the background of a cosmic purposelessness." For "if the whole [of] existence is purposeless, then there is no need for you to be purposeful. Then you can play, you can sing and dance, you can enjoy, you can love and live, and there is no need to create a goal. Here and now, this very moment, the ultimate is present."

When I talked about professional baseball in Part 3, I emphasized that it couldn't really be seen as play because it couldn't be seen as pointless: it was clearly about competing, about winning. Note how different are Osho's descriptions of play than anything that might actually characterize organized sports today:

girl blowing bubbles"[Life] is not a business, it is a play. In India we have been calling it leela . . . a cosmic play . . . as if God is playing. Energy overflowing, not for some purpose, just enjoying itself, just a small child playing--for what purpose? Running after butterflies, collecting colored stones on the beach, dancing under the sun, running under the trees, collecting flowers--for what purpose?

". . . At the most, if the child could explain he would say, 'Because I feel good. Running, I feel more alive. Collecting flowers, I enjoy, it is ecstatic.' But there is no purpose. The very act in itself is beautiful, ecstatic. To be alive is enough, there is no need for any purpose.

". . . Ecstasy is not something you can achieve by some effort, ecstasy is a way of living. Moment to moment you have to be ecstatic, simple things have to be enjoyed. And life gives millions of opportunities to enjoy. You will miss them if you're purposive. . . . All around the divine is happening, the ultimate is showering. But you will be able to see it only if you're nonpurposive and playful."

So, taking Osho's lead, what if life has no intrinsic purpose?--that it just is? That it's a phenomenon, or gift, or blessing, the actual meaning of which must be externally ascribed (for it doesn't simply come with one)? Considering the possible truth of this premise, if your life has a purpose it must be one that (consciously or not) you made up. And whatever it was you decided upon, you must have assumed that your life would be best lived that way--that for you to be happy your existence had to be meaningful, had to be purpose-driven.

But such an attribution of meaning is totally subjective. And frankly, it's doubtful that most of the joys you experience are that intimately tied to any overriding sense of purpose. It's more likely that your mental and emotional peaks occur when you've given yourself permission to be childlike--when you're uninhibitedly enjoying yourself apart from all your meaningful pursuits. And, in that sense at least, purposelessness in your life is just as valuable, just as fundamental and life-affirming, as are all your more purposeful activities.

Besides, your very mortality belies the distinctions you may presently be making between purposeful and purposeless behaviors. And if, ultimately, it's all purposeless, then how much of your unique humanness might you be betraying in valuing solely that which you deem purposeful?

And, again in the words of Osho, ". . . if there is no purpose in life itself there is no need to create a purpose for your individual life. . . . Because of individual purposes you become tense, something has to be achieved." So then the question becomes, can you be content with purposelessness?--for only then can you "achieve" a non-achieving mind. To Osho, you should "just try to understand the whole cosmic play and be a part in it." And expanding on this notion, he adds:

"Don't be serious, because a play can never be serious. And if the play needs you to be serious, be playfully serious, don't be really serious. . . . Then this very moment you can move into the ultimate. The ultimate is not in the future, it is the present, hidden here and now. So don't ask about purpose--there is none, and I say it is beautiful that there is none." And, taking my cue from Osho, I'd add that if the present is perceived as a present, you're much more likely to treat it as the precious gift it is.

children building sandcastlesNext, Osho--connecting play to the divine--goes so far as to suggest the "godliness" of play:

"[When someone asked Jesus] who will be able to enter into the kingdom of your God, [he] said, 'Those who are like small children.' This is the secret. What is the meaning of being a small child? The meaning is that the child is . . . always playful. If you can become playful, you have become a child again, and only children can enter into the kingdom of God, nobody else, because children can play without asking where it is leading [and without any ulterior motive]. . . . [And] they [can be] very serious when they are playing . . . when they are creating. They are enjoying. And they are not fools, they know that . . . everything is make-believe. Why waste time in thinking in terms of business? Why not live more and more playfully, non-seriously, ecstatically?"

So here we have expounded "the play of seriousness," as well as "the seriousness of play." And such creative acts are, or feel, inherently meaningful--at the same time they're recognized to be meaningless . . . joyfully meaningless.


Conclusion

If you spend almost all your time focused on one destination after another, then you'll resist--or not fully avail yourself of--the many pleasurable "detours" that life, in its infinite richness, may have to offer you. Anything that doesn't fit your preconceived notions of where you need to go, and how you'll get there, will likely be dismissed as imprudent, extraneous, or unwarranted. And yet how crucial to your overall well-being might it be to selectively--and mindfully--immerse yourself in some of the intriguing diversions that vie for your "distracted attention."

It's only when you choose, periodically, to de-focus from your subjectively chosen goals and--childlike--follow these "disruptions," that you'll be able to live fully and richly. Are these distractions purposeful?--in the sense of being practical, profitable, advantageous? Well, no--at least not literally. But why should they need to be? Isn't it much better to embrace these distractions for what they are? Opportunities to play, to laugh, to create, to feel inspired, and to enjoy living for its own purposeless sake?

woman on swingIf you become aware of how dynamic, how restorative, how centering so-called "purposeless" behavior can be--which on various levels I've been discussing in all four parts of this extended post--hopefully you'll begin to schedule it into your daily life. Just as it's essential to balance your work with play, and your activity with rest, it's just as critical to counter whatever may have "conditioned" you to act purposefully with an equal, though opposite, practice of "letting go." Abandoning for the moment both your long- and short-terms goals and acting without utilitarian (or even idealistic) motives. Acting playfully with delight, and with no purpose other than affirming the simple joy of be-ing.

For if in the end the best "made-up" purpose in life is to live happily, then regaining your sense of wonder and curiosity, and re-discovering your inner child's passion for having fun, might just be a whole lot more satisfying than living to reach goal--after goal--after goal. . . .

 

Notes:

1. For anyone who missed earlier sections of this four-part post, here are links for parts 1, 2, and 3.

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Play Your Way