Pyramid of Living, the Value of Play

Eye of the PyramidYou know the food pyramid, right? It lists the foods you need the most of at the bottom, the basics like bread, grains, pasta, then veggies and fruits next, then there’s then proteins, nuts and meats, then cheeses and dairy, then oils and fats. The way it’s set up, the top are the rich foods you need the smallest quantities of, with the largest portions suggestions at the bottom.

What about a pyramid of living health, a pyramid for living with quality? However, as I imagine it, the top is the guide of all activities below. While the lower activities are crucial to living physically, as we approach the top the activities become more abstract, yet more important to creating meaning and balance. Richer is better in my pyramid.

Perhaps the bottom area would be filled with activities which take the most time, the foundations of building life, such as work and learning. Next could come sleep and eating, which take a fair portion of our lives and are crucial to our quality of living. Next up could be play, an incredibly vital tool to grow and develop in the culture of life. At the top I see the morals and practices, our spiritual habits, which guide and direct all the others.

I’d like to think about play a bit. All animals learn through play the skills they need to survive as adults. Humans, while they use play as children to practice living, continue to need play to develop and nurture our spirits as they progress through life. Otherwise, our existence can become empty, labored and mundane.

Using play we begin to know our spirits, the parts of ourselves which flow, which create, which can live abstractly. Games are abstractions of life. In some games, we give ourselves rules to play within, creating limitations to push against. Sports and board games would fit here. In others we are free to create without any apparent practical function or goal, such as gardening or painting. All types of play offer freedom within challenge. Yet, since the challenge is artificial, we are more free to really grow and thrive within its safety. Real life threatens, looms with its deadly consequences, its bitter fates, its irrevocability. Games let us submit to chance and its outcomes in a closed system, without the deadly consequences. We can practice living fearlessly.

My favorite forms of play include music, poetry, writing, cooking, gardening, conversation, hiking. These may seem less structured than some games and sports, but music for example, has a rigid stucture in which one creates an abstract mood. In poetry one needs to master language to escape its confines. Cooking and gardening are forms of play within given structures. Cooking involves the science and physics of the edible and gardening harnesses the biology and weather of nature.

Play comes in more forms than just board games, sports, or hobbies. Sex is a definite form of play. I know some would disagree. Without letting it become an addiction or obsession, sex can be a valuable method for exploring your deeper self. For example, role playing in sex can be a way to act out insecurities, and grow beyond them. Playing roles as adults can also help see through the falsity of power structures and overcome our fear of them.

So we see that play is vital to our lives. Perhaps Communism’s failure was it’s lack of playful freedom. Humanity cannot survive on serious structured living alone. (something I need to remind myself daily)

We can carry the idea of play further. Conversation is a form of play. Each of us chooses from a multitude of words to utter or write one thought. An idea can be said a million ways. How and why do we chose between collide and crash, between grow and evolve? Playfulness in language is one of my favorite hobbies. Poetry is playing with words. Juxtaposing words in a playful way frees me of their stricture, their bonds, their prison. Words then become prisms, fragmenting the load of language and meaning into rainbows of subtlety.

Jaques Derrida, a French deconstructionist philosopher, wrote of the “spurs” in language. By this he meant how words have hooks which snag us by their illusions, which we then take as reality. Our thoughts are composed of words and emotions, most of which we are prisoners to. To break free of a thought or emotion, take it apart, break it up into tiny little pieces and make a collage out of it. It’s liberating. This is an example of how play can be useful in building a better life.

Why is it that most of us think of work as anything other than an extension of play? I know I do. Even by saying “I’m working on thinking differently about work”. Ugh! So, play is something which can actually help us learn to live our lives more fully and directly. We need to incorporate the attitudes of play, its freedom, into our “work” mentality. Food for thought.

Moving to the highest level of the pyramid, closer to pure spirit, we have our spiritual practices. These are the diamonds of our higher existence, under which all else in our lives can sparkle. Our spiritual habits guide and tutor every mundane move, every thought, toward pure spirit. Pure spirit is an open consciousness where we sense and know the big picture, we know our value, our gifts, our weaknesses, and can grow beyond them. We are free from fear, judgment, and ego. From this point of view we notice our connection to community, to ecology, culture.

Our spiritual practices are the eye of our pyramid, the small, frail organ which interprets between body and spirit, which lays out the path to an evolved Self. Work, learning, sleep, food and play are subject to its vision, its scope.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Spiritual practices are not limitations or obligations or rules, not in my version of the world. They can be as simple as a few clear attitudes of how the world is put together, how we fit into it, and how we can overcome our limitations. Asking the right questions begins the search. Do I want to overcome my limitations? How? What is the big picture? What is the meaning of my life? Be open and the answers will come flooding in. Breathe and the next breath will tell you more.

But don’t forget to be playful toward your highest goals.

PS One of my comenters, Kelley Bell, mentioned how similar my pyramid idea seemed to Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. She’s right, and I had not heard of him before. But Maslow has a much more detailed and subtle arrangment of the ideas I present here. Go check it out. Cool Stuff.

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