Lila, divine play, is the gods disporting themselves. Sounds rosy, till it sinks in that we all take turns being the gods, the playthings, the sandbox, and the earthworm suffocated in it.
At a young age, the school playground was one of my least favorite places. Someone was going to comment on my pale-yellow cords. Someone was going to propose kickball or dodgeball or any of the other -balls intended to form young warriors out of suburban children, except the ones like me, whose hand-eye coordination and basic tethering to this planet were somewhat compromised. My true playgrounds were books and drawing, and the dust-motes singing in the sunlit living-room window. I grew up with spacious internal playgrounds, devoid of competition.
The playground-lila view of life looks up the skirts and armholes of everyone’s carefully put-together presentations, through the eyeholes and up the nose, but not in a pervy way. It sees how we try to cement things together, and how the sand in the mortar melts away with the next wave, and the next.
All winter the snow disintegrates and re-forms day by day: loose, hard, shining, slick, pockmarked, tussocked, speared with branches hurled down by last night’s wind. The snow is the playground and the one being played with, and so am I, and so are the dogs. I am a person who does not believe in removing dog shit from the forest, and so I have become a snow-burial connoisseur. Powder is best and easiest, forming fluffy nests around poops of any size and consistency. Frozen shell is hardest: there’s nothing to dig up and nothing loose to pile on top. In between are endless permutations. Semi-burying turds is a symbolic act, but to me it makes the difference between I care not for this world and I know you’re not here for a turd parade. I never see anyone else’s half- or three-quarter-buried turds in the forest playground. Maybe that’s because it is a successful strategy? People are afraid to come into the woods anyway, shit or no-shit.
The playground of the rich and famous. Restaurant-fulls of people in expensive knitwear and carefully coiffed toupées. In such places, a turd on the almond-green carpet might be just the ticket, but I’ve never seen it happen, even when patrons’ malteses and poodles are invited to the feast. The playground of the rich and famous is a famine, a funeral, an upholstered bidet-cover, a bunch of stiff gladioli on a marine teak table.
Playground ethics? Coyote thinks that’s hilarious and goes on crunching frozen apples from her orchard perch among branches really too flimsy for her furry weight. On the other hand, Coyote wears her own suit, not strips torn off the bodies of other creatures. If you offered her a mink coat to look more rich and famous on the playground, she’d take a dump on its satin lining and saunter off in search of someone with more personality.
Is the world a playground for us? Yes-no. Yes, if we look closely at what moves us, we’ll see it’s often pretty funny and we have more freedom then we thought, to live from heart-spaces deeper than thought. We need to learn to tell the difference between play and toying with. Is that hard to do? Driving to the library I listen to an old Jesus and Mary Chain song about a motorcycle: I’m in love with myself/ there’s nothing left but myself. Black leather boots, speed, racing, and a saw-blade deep inside the guitars. That kind of state doesn’t have any room for other forms of being. It squishes squirrels and isn’t sorry, runs over a woman checking her mailbox, and crashes into a perfectly good oak tree.
The playground is the mind.
The playground is the body.
The playground depends on which permissions we work with.
Which skills do we bring and which do we lack?
The yoga studio at the gym is an off-duty playground of self-torment and glee. Outside, the machine-folk toughen their buns and arms. In here I roll around like a clunky otter, and a young devotee listens to her guru tell her what to do with every breath, and an older man with a round belly grunts like a condemned prisoner. I swing my sword, go upside down to open what’s closed in my neck. She’s a mermaid whispering prayers under her breath. He knows grace is not really an option, but what he’s got is better than having nothing at all.
I am in the locker room after high school swim practice. Young and silly and exhilarated, girls are shedding their suits and prancing around in thongs and bras, discovering the playgrounds of their new bodies. They’ve only had hips and breasts for a year or two, and there is so much for them to investigate in their own butt-dimples and bikini-shaves, new height, new strength, and new insights. They talk to one another packed three to a shower stall, working out the shape of their world and the possibilities they bring to it. Some of the older women, like me, are mostly annoyed with this storm of mermaids. Still, I see their communal rowdiness and wish these young women may have playgrounds without end.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now