Life: A Game of Hide and Seek

January 24, 2011

The Tao

Many of the secrets of life are often revealed in the unfettered games of children. In the popular game Hide and Seek, children begin by choosing among themselves one to be "it", the one who will seek. That child closes her eyes and counts to ten or twenty while the other children quickly find a hiding place. There are many variations on the game but generally, the winner of the game is the last one to be found. The first child to be discovered becomes the "it" in the next round. While remaining hidden is the goal, great excitement in the game is derived from the anticipation or potential of being found out. A child who finds a perfect hiding place may play several rounds and take shelter each time in that secret, perfect spot. But with each round, boredom sets in and the game loses its challenge or meaning for him. He begins to get more daring by stepping out further and further of his hiding place each time to entice the seeker to find him, to make himself more vulnerable to becoming "it". Eventually he may get found out but that excitement from the potential of being discovered overrides the monotony of his perfect hiding place.

These patterns, reflected in the games of children, can be found in various religions around the world. The Hindus, for example, consider every creature to be an incarnation of the divine who acts out life as in a drama. This idea is represented by the concept of Maya. God hides behind each face and pretends to be separate and distinct actors who perform their roles on the world stage. We have the same idea in Christianity, although it is more subtle. One of the greatest dramas ever known is the Passion of Christ. Here we have the Son of God who is really God in human form. He comes to earth and endures all of the pains and temptations of the flesh. In effect, God willingly forgets or forgoes his divinity for a brief moment to act out the life of a human being. After all, how would an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent God keep things interesting? By forgetting who He is, taking on limitations and acting as if He is not God. Mainstream Christians don't see the story of Jesus in such a way but this idea of passion and drama is undeniably embedded in their faith. Buddhism, another important religion or philosophy, tells us that the world as we have it, with all of its suffering and pain and terror, is ultimately nirvana. That which we have is already in a state of perfection. This idea is considered absolutely unacceptable by those who do not sense the fundamentally playful nature of the Universe. Life creates drama out of nothing, through the illusion of opposites like good and evil or birth and death. But fundamentally, there is no death without birth or up without down. The one polarity implies or defines the other; they need each other to be a sounding board, to get a sense of their own presence. This idea is fundamental to Taoism, another well-known world philosophy that originated in China.

Of course all mythologies and religions are reflections of human thought and life. We as individuals play Hide and Seek with ourselves by participating in polarizing patterns in the form of politics, social issues, religions and other ideologies. We tend to emphasize the differences and choose to ignore the unity that holds them together. However, even in our utmost ignorance, we secretly know full well what we are doing. In other words we are heroes and villains acting out myths and legends to constantly renew the excitement of the game of life. Some of us play the criminal while others take on the role of the judge. Some of us play the saint while others take on the act of the politician. All of us however, from the most powerful and wealthy to the poorest of the poor, participate in this cosmic drama and no one is immune from being tossed about, psychologically, between the polarities of the game.

Moreover, the nature of the game is such that it unfolds according to the player's impulses; there is a communion between the game and the player. The player is as much of an author as a participant. As such, the game has a psychedelic bent and never openly gives itself away. While we can talk about choice or control or lack thereof, these things are fundamentally an illusion. Rather, the game and the player move together in a mutual relationship acted out through drama. When a person begins to feel comfortable with the direction of life, something eventually arises to upset the situation. The game changes course in such a way that challenges and engages the player in increasingly different ways. It may do so through disease or death of a loved one or by taking an absurd or more serious tone or by tapping into insecurities or fears or assumptions. Nevertheless, the game is always in flux. Living out of their centers, figures such as Gautama the Buddha and Jesus are symbols or representations of those who wake up to the dramatic, illusory and ephemeral nature of life, with all of its pleasures, frustrations, and suffering. Such figures recognize the unifying elements in the apparent dualistic patterns in the game. That psychologically awakened position is like, in the words of Nietzsche, "a wheel rolling out of its own center." It is not a life lived through the demands of one's community, gods, parents, or government but through one's own creative and dynamic impulse to life. Coincidentally, the image of the wheel was used in medieval times to signify the nature of fortune in life. It was called Rota Fortunae or The Wheel of Fortune. Those at the top of the wheel rejoice in their fortune while those at the bottom bemoan their unlucky fate. But those who live out of the center of the wheel are not pinned to the ups and downs of life. They are at once in motion, changing with life, and yet still, unaffected psychologically by its swings. The big picture however reveals that the top, the bottom and the center are all integral to the whole mechanism. No single point can exist without the others.

While each of our lives may be like a spinning wheel, we choose to participate in its ups and downs. We are here because we choose to be here. We are the authors of our dramas, including our pleasures and pains, our joy and suffering. If it were not so, how then can we make sense of life? To live from a perspective that does not grant us the ultimate choice and responsibility for our presence in this world is to live neurotically. In fact violence, poverty and other social ills exist precisely because we carry on as if we do not have a choice in our participation in this world. Even in our most disturbing and frustrating moments, there is always a sense in the back of our minds of life's ephemeral and playful nature. No matter how terrible things may be at any moment, we know that at some point in the future the situation will be different. That is a guarantee underwritten by death. While death may be our ultimate despair, it is paradoxically and simultaneously our greatest release from the wheel.

More of us today are leaving our hiding places to make ourselves increasingly vulnerable. The game is becoming more "serious" as we attempt to challenge it and unlock its psychedelic nature. For this reason, the world seems to be more distracted, polarized, neurotic and dangerous than ever. This fact is demonstrated all around us. We have Republicans sparring with Democrats, capitalists with communists, good with evil and so on. More of us are falling into poverty and harboring fears about our future. We are constantly bombarded by the threat of terrorism, food poisoning, war, inflation, oil spills, etc. Corruption dominates all levels of society, including our politics, economics, religions and other institutions. Like a drug addict, we need greater doses of shocking news and entertainment to maintain our level of distraction. Child pornography, abuse by religious leaders, leaked government secrets and other startling news have become staples in the mainstream media. We hear of teenagers as young as fourteen who are undergoing elective plastic surgery. We listen to relentless marketing campaigns that tempt us to buy more unnecessary things that ultimately destroy the resources of our planet and alienate us from everything around us.

Needless to say, the game is pushing the envelope. And while the vast majority of people continue to play with opposites and pretend to have choices and control (or lack thereof) over their lives, the greater challenge may be to try and understand the relationship between the player and the game, between the actor and the drama. It is as if the game itself is daring us to unlock its mechanism. In other words, our ultimate task may be to identify the patterns or the myths that are already guiding us and writing the script of our lives. Can we wake up to the nature of the game and move to the center of our own wheel? Or will the game always seduce and mesmerize us even as it drives us to the brink of annihilation? If we can move to the center of the wheel, there is a wondrous discovery to be made that is different and unique to each player. It is a dynamic transmutation and communion between the player and the game that transcend polarities, choices and control. Such a discovery pitches the experience of life into an entirely different realm. Collectively we may not be ready for this next level of the game, so we continue with the current business of opposites, of freedom versus slavery, of free will versus fate.

While it may be impossible to disprove the claim that life is a type of game, it is perhaps more palatable and empowering to carry on as if it were so. Living the life we have as if we intended it to be this way allows us to take responsibility for who we are and to reject any hint of victimization. This lyric and poetic approach to the drama of life can truly have a powerful effect on our experience of reality. Even if we were to find ourselves tortured, crucified and forsaken by the world, we retain the integrity and the rhythm of the impulse to our lives. We remain in resonance with its source, which is beyond polar opposites. That is the well-guarded and venerable secret of gods and heroes. In other words, through a shift in our perspective and acceptance of who we are now, our experience of the world and ourselves changes and becomes transparent to that resonance. This is the psychedelic and paradoxical nature of the game. Nothing in this world, no words or concepts, can touch it. We are here because we have chosen to be "it" for this round. We have come out of our hiding places to participate in life because we secretly know that beneath all of our pains there is ecstasy. As the Hindus say: "Tat Tvam Asi". Literally translated, it means "thou art that". You are "it" so play the game with delight!


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