When I first learned about the attributes of original play from Fred Donaldson, I loved it: No competition, no conquest, no winning or losing, and no fairness.
No fairness? I had to think about that one a bit.
Gradually it dawned upon me. Fairness entails expectation. When I give you something, I expect you to give me something back. What I do to one I am expected to do to all. My father was like that: there was always fairness in our home. Thanks to the apparent obsession with fairness of the Dutch I now have a Dutch passport.
But fairness also entails what we call justice. When you steal you have to “pay for your sins” by going to jail. Until very recently, when you murdered somebody, you were murdered in return. In some countries you still are. But in most western countries our repulsion of death has overcome our sense of fairness, and instead of murdering the murderers, we now send them to jail for a long time.
Depending, of course, on the verdict of the judges. Sometimes some kinds of murder are regarded as less serious than other kinds, and the sentence is reduced accordingly. Above all, however, it must be seen to be fair.
This kind of fairness seems to be especially prevalent in the Middle East: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” In fact, it often seems to be a case of “A head for an eye and a jaw for a tooth” …
When I taught at a convent, one particular class of grade ten girls was obsessed with fairness. They would watch me like a hawk, and whenever I gave something to one of them that I didn’t give to the others, even just attention, they would shout: “That’s not fair!”
“Life’s not fair,” I responded, and they would get very angry with me. Why? Because effectively I challenged a basic assumption of our society: life must always be fair.
In a previous blog I mentioned the situation in South Africa, where we presently have many people claiming compensation or retribution for the “unfairness” of Apartheid and colonialism in general. In this kind of demand for fairness, of course, it is imperative that one party be seen as the victim and the other as the oppressor. What is happening in practice, as happened in probably all revolutions in the past, is that some previous “victims” are now becoming oppressors.
In order to be seen as the victim, you have to deny all evidence that you or your particular group, race or country may also have been oppressors in the past. If we were to honestly delve into the history, it would be very difficult to find a group of people who have not been both “victim” and “oppressor” in the past.
And so we see another difficulty with fairness. In order to claim my share in a fair deal, I have to demonstrate that I have indeed been wronged, but have not wronged anybody else. Because human nature simply is not that way, I have to deny everything that contradicts my version of being a victim.
And so the very “honesty” of fairness leads to dishonesty, and to conflict. Isn’t basically all conflict in the world based on the idea that “I am right and you are wrong, and I must right the wrong”?
Jesus came to point out the fallacy of fairness. He came to point out to the Jews that their God who demanded such fairness (though not necessarily practicing it Himself) did, in fact, not exist. He came to point out that God is Love, and Love is not fairness.
In his classic book The Art of Loving, Erich From pointed out that much of what we call “love” is in fact bargaining. After the initial stage of infatuation in a “romantic” relationship, we start demanding fairness. In the days where women were not supposed to enjoy sex, it was quite a well-defined bargain: I (the man in a heterosexual relationship) give you security and protection in return for sex. Some relationships still operate that way. A lot has changed today, but the basic principle remains: If I do something, you must do something in return.
The obvious implication is sacrifice, and conflict. If I don’t like or feel like doing what you expect of me, I may become resentful, and may complain, or simply refuse to do what you expect. Then you may get angry and resentful.
But isn’t it true that some things just have to be done? A friend of mine uses the argument, “Somebody has to do the washing.” When I responded with “Why?”, she was thrown. Surely it’s obvious?
It is, yes, in the world we believe is real.
If you have lots of money, of course, it’s not such a problem. You just pay somebody else to do it, thereby merely shifting the “sacrifice” onto that person. But what if you can’t afford that?
The answer is a completely different state of mind, called “love”. This is what Jesus came to teach. According to A Course of Love: “When you think of acting out of love, your thoughts of love are based on sentiment and must be challenged. Love is not being nice when you are feeling surly. Love is not doing good deeds of charity and service. Love is not throwing logic to the wind and acting in foolish ways that pass as gaiety but cannot masquerade as joy.” This has further implications: “Love is not something you do. It is what you are. To continue to identify love incorrectly is to continue to be unable to identify your Self.”
To demonstrate love is effectively to be yourself. Young children know this. Yet this leaves us with a further question: Who am I? From the day we were born we were told, overtly or covertly, not to be ourselves. We do the same with our own children. Children quickly learn what gets them attention and what not, and they adapt their behaviour accordingly. Some children learn that spontaneity gets them attention; other realize that being sick or miserable has the same effect.
Original play is the kind of play children practice spontaneously, as do wild animals. As Fred Donaldson pointed out, fairness is not part of this play. Neither is competition and conquest. And so in a world based on fairness, competition and conquest, children quickly unlearn to play according to their inherent nature. They do more: they learn to deny their very being in order to become as they sense they are expected to be.
This all happens before the age of seven. The “rational” part of the brain only develops around the age of six. This does not mean that children now become rational. It merely means that they can now use that part of the brain to rationalize what they have already internalized. What they have internalized is who they believe themselves to be. And so they become us.
Fairness is part of a much broader belief system that includes lack, competition, sacrifice, “victims and oppressors”, and the like. The power of this belief cannot be underestimated. The world as we know it, with all its conflict, violence and destruction, runs on it.
The only way to return to who we truly are is to undo all that we have learned in the past: to undo all our beliefs about who we are. This is what A Course in Miracles is all about. The famous depth psychologist Carl Jung summarized it as follows: “If we do not make the Unconscious conscious, life will keep happening to us and we will call it fate.” Only by our willingness to expose every single belief we have to the light of consciousness can we discover the Love that we are.
In the well-known prayer of St Francis, which those who grew up in the catholic tradition probably know better than those in the Protestant tradition, we say or sing: “It is in giving that we receive.” How many of us have really thought about the implications of this?
This is truly the nature of the Love that Jesus came to teach. Giving and receiving are one. When we truly give – without expectation of anything in return – we cannot other than receive.
We tend to interpreted Jesus’ teachings mainly in terms of money and possessions, but it entails so much more. Whenever we truly give of ourselves, we give, and receive accordingly. Having learned that we are inherently evil, however, many of us have great difficulty believing that we have anything of value to give. Yet do we not adore all children simply for their ability to be who they are? Until they become “adulterated”, that is.
One way to give, although rarely perceived in that way, is to be completely open about what we feel. The amazing thing is that, to the extent that I can truly expose my deepest feelings, even if I perceive of them as “negative”, others will tend to do the same, and in this sharing, this giving and receiving as one, we will experience unity. I’m not talking about projection, of course. To blame others is very different from admitting my own anger or hurt.
Once on a wilderness trail with a group of high school girls, one of the girls fell heels over head in love with me and was completely open about it. It was as if her social filter had simply disintegrated. She said exactly what she felt. I could see some of the other girls felt a bit uncomfortable about it – but also not.
It was a bit of a difficult situation for me because, as much as would have liked to reciprocate her love in a physical way, I simply couldn’t. Or at least I wasn’t prepared to face the consequences of doing so.
This particular trail was one of three that stand out for me as my most enjoyable trails ever. Without the slightest intention to do so, simply by being herself, this girl had played a crucial role in the success of the trail. She had a deep effect on me: not because she fell in love with me, but because she was so utterly transparent. In that transparency she gave so much more than any conscious giving could ever do, and all of us received in the process. I still have a deep love for her.
People on “spiritual journeys” are often perceived as selfish. This is inevitable. The journey of discovery of who we are not entails a focus on ourselves, and can be decidedly uncomfortable for those around us as much as for ourselves. Very few of us are able to undo our belief system without discomfort. What we believe generally is what people around us believe, so when we start undoing our own belief system, we almost cannot other than threaten those around us. Like scientists challenging basic tenets of science, religious people challenging basic tenets of religion and the like, we may experience ridicule, marginalization or even ostracization. If only one person in a relationship starts becoming more aware, it may threaten the relationship.
Yet can this really be worse than the world we live in? About half of all marriages now end in divorce. The irony is that, if both participants of a relationship are willing to “grow”, relationships can become much more fulfilling. A Course in Miracles speaks about “holy relationships” as opposed to “special relationships”. Most relationships have as their purpose to make each other feel special, yet this specialness does not make us happy. In holy relationships, we are willing to face the discomfort of undoing everything that has ever kept us from true happiness.
There is a saying: “The Truth shall set you free, but first it will make you miserable”. Few of us would consciously choose the “miserable” option. Yet, as we continue to experience “fate”, more and more of us are left with little choice but to face what we have pushed into unconsciousness.
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” These were Jesus’ words according to the Gospel of Thomas – according to many theologians the oldest of the gospels, yet excluded from the Bible by the Catholic Church. Today the English and other translations are freely available. The Church did not deem the masses “ready” for it. Are we ready now?
Filed under In the Light of Darkness