As kids we like to role-play, pretending and testing the boundaries of our reality. We even play dead. Any game of pretense is both a learning about the world and a learning about oneself. In trying to divine what it would be like to be so-and-so or such-and-such, we figure out who we are as we notice our sameness through all the roles we play.
But what is it that remains constant and immutable as we morph from one pretense to another? What can we learn from play about our inner nature, about who/what we are?
This question is an ancient game of knowledge, and we play it out every day when we eat. Eating is also an exchange of information, a role reversal: The eater eats food and becomes food for another eater, for no other reason than to live.
Eating is also a form of play or lila, a Hindu concept which is “understood to be purposeless divine activity” (Haberman 1994, 229). Lila is a form of cosmic drama, the game of self-perpetuating creation. It’s a journey through the forest of life that transforms the traveler through an endless cycle of change for no reason other than mere play. This is a powerfully sobering and liberating proposition: that “all life is lila, or purposeless play” (Haberman 1994, viii).
As you play out the drama of eating, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? What is the point of this eating act? Why build and maintain this body only to see it deteriorate with age?”
Plumb the seeming pointlessness of this eating transmutation: Here you are, excavating the world in search of nutrients and sustenance, and continually re-creating yourself from the reality you consume and dressing yourself up into the flesh of reality.
But what for? Allow your mind to chase around in circles of self-justification. And then, when you’re finally ready to stop playing the game of meaning, allow yourself to leave all these question unanswered.
People often ask, “What’s the point of life?” The point of life is living. That’s the lila of it. Eat to play. Play to eat. This is your turn, living matter—your turn at the game of creation. Build your body, build your mind, build your meaning, build your legacy, build your pyramids and empires, build this edifice of life. And enjoy the hell out of the process. Life is playtime—your playtime.
It’s the time for your drama of existence, for your learning, for your living-loving, and eating makes it possible. Indeed, how else will the Universe educate its own matter if not by giving it a chance to live? Life schools matter about itself through your eyes, through your mouth, and through your play. And in playing, the Universe constantly changes itself so that there is always something new to learn, to discover, to understand, and to play with.
You are part of this play. So, play with yourself. In other words, eat with playful presence!
Adapted from Reinventing the Meal (Somov, Sept 2012)
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Last reviewed: 30 Aug 2012