What the greatest spiritual teachers tell us

“Study hard so that you’ll get good grades.  Get good grades so you can get into a good college.  Get into a good college so that you’ll get a good job.  Get a good job and work hard so that you can get the good things in life.  By the time you get the ‘good things,’ you can barely remember how to play,” George Leonard observes in the The Way of Aikido.  “We are taught to do one thing to achieve another thing,” 

This week we’re continuing our exploration of some of the key concepts from George’s book about how lessons from the martial arts apply in all aspects of our lives.  

Yesterday, we looked at the important role deliberate practice plays on the path to mastery.  George believes there is a strong relationship between practice and play.

“What are we doing in the dojo?” he asks.  “We might have come to aikido for self-defense or fitness or training.  But after a few months, these considerations fall away.  We are doing it with all that it entails-strenuous exertion, pain, close calls, occasional injury, along with years of what you might call ‘hard work.'” 

Why do this?

“For the sheer delight of it,” says George: “We are playing.”

“How sad it is, as we leave childhood behind, that we are taught in countless explicit and implicit ways to work hard rather than to play joyfully,” he writes.  “Play is whatever absorbs us fully, whatever creates purpose and order, whatever involves us in as much meaningful interaction as is possible.” If our destiny as humans is to learn, George believes it is the happy, magical union of practice and play that allows us to realize that destiny. He suggests we re-frame (1) what we do in life, including our work, as practice; and (2) see practice as play.

“Aikido summons all of us, whether we do aikido or not, to play and keep playing from childhood to old age, to seek out the possibilities of play in every aspect of living – in what we call “work,” in love and sex, in relationships with family and friends, even in taking a walk around the block,” writes George.

There’s a paradox.

When we approach an activity in the spirit of “play”- fully, joyfully, and primarily for its own sake, we are much more likely to enjoy a higher level of success as well as satisfaction.  The person who gardens primarily for the love of it, as a practice, is the one who will experience long-term success.

He writes: “It is this feeling of being totally absorbed and entranced that joins play and practice in a marriage where both past and future fall away and we are privileged to exist if only for a while, in the present moment.  The greatest spiritual teachers tell us that this is the place where God is.”  

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Reflection:  How do I view my work?  Is there joy and satisfaction in the doing, not just the results?

Action:  Look for an opportunity to turn something I do today into a practice.

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