Finding the Last Station – Yamada Mumon

September 01, 11
Kneeboard surfing

www.surfersvillage.com

Yamada Mumon’s quote on play is one of my favorites:

“When you have reached the last station at the end of the line, there is nothing to seek, all one does is play.”

This can really be a beacon of guidance if we let it.

In this case, I happen to like the existentialist angle, and I don’t always respond well to the existentialist cold water bucket shower. The last station is not, of course, a physical place.

It’s the perfect symbol of a linear journey, and each “station” might represent the defining mindset we carve out for ourselves at various points along the way – the way we think we’ve sussed it all out or have it partially answered – but the last station can be reached long before we reach the physical end.

The last station can be reached at the same time we realize that there truly is nothing left to seek — a version of knowing through intuition and experience that everything we need is right in front of us.

Hard.

If you think about it, play is the only possible response to this realization. Going backwards on this, if we were to frame play at the center of our own pursuits, would we start to achieve a loss of seeking? Either way is difficult, but extreme play does seem to cause a spontaneous loss of seeking.

Nothing feels more perfect than pure play exhaustion, and nothing can be added to improve the situation.

Hard for many to accept.
Harder still for many to act on.

Play turns out to be the most non-frivolous activity we might pursue.

Play Atrophy

July 26, 11

When you have reached the last station at the end of the line, there is nothing to seek, all one does is play.
– Yamada Mumon, commentary on Ten Oxherding Pictures

It’s Summer and play isn’t front and center.

In the end there is only play. We know at our core that we are defeated by biology. This is known in our fabric. If we start to feel big for a moment, play will thankfully make us little again. A chemical curve ball might be the very end.

In the face of it, you play.

But we don’t play. We sit and worry and fret and plan and hope and wonder and stew and scheme.

Who has time to play? No one. We aren’t playful. We are serious and fast food ordered and still have Victorian flaps hanging off our duffs most of the time.

There is every obstacle to play: financial, psychological, moral. “I can’t afford to play” – “I never waste time” – “I’m not lazy” – we’ve heard them all and it’s going nowhere.

Cave in.

Play in response to the challenge at hand. Not the generic “Work hard, play harder” that every surgeon whips off in a magazine interview. No. Helicoptering to Aspen isn’t what we’re after.

Find a way to get there right now.

When you have reached the last station at the end of the line, there is nothing to seek, all one does is play. – Yamada Mumon, commentary on Ten Oxherding Pictures

It’s Summer and play isn’t front and center.

In the end there is only play. We know at our core that we are defeated by biology. This is known in our fabric. If we start to feel big for a moment, play will thankfully make us little again. A chemical curve ball might be the very end.

In the face of it, you play.

But we don’t play. We sit and worry and fret and plan and hope and wonder and stew and scheme.

Who has time to play? No one. We aren’t playful. We are serious and fast food ordered and still have Victorian flaps hanging off our duffs most of the time.

There is every obstacle to play: financial, psychological, moral. “I can’t afford to play” – “I never waste time” – “I’m not lazy” – we’ve heard them all and it’s going nowhere.

Cave in.

Play in response to the challenge at hand. Not the generic “Work hard, play harder” that every surgeon whips off in a magazine interview. No. Helicoptering to Aspen isn’t what we’re after.

Find a way to get there now.

The Coin in Your Pocket

April 20, 11

We can fake our interests, which is self-inflicted identity theft, but this only helps to draw a line of paint in the sand towards a likely hollow outcome.

It seems that from the beginning, play unveils our interests and mints them like a coin to carry with us. We often lose that coin, or have it shaken right out of our pockets.

Guard that pocket, or a large rambling hand will take that coin even while you’re just trying to have some lunch down at the duck pond. Be on guard, almost every force in the world is working against you just to take that coin away.

 The one that play minted freely for you.

We can pursue something blindly hoping that a sack of gold will fall at our feet after enough steps up the Andes in badly frayed shoes. Sometimes one will.

We might instead choose to chase the gold sacks on the merry-go-round of fortune, pinned to a big spinning wheel with rainbow lights, in what we call the socio-economic lottery. This seems to be mostly a move to madness. Every day the house tilts towards even better odds.

We can try to ignore it all, avoiding our interests and the gold together – and try and live with whatever peril or bliss may follow.

The apology never comes.

Don’t apologize for enjoying architecture more than short conversations with attention challenged venture capitalists. Take your payment in the form of seeing an old window in a new city.

Of being here or there for a minute or so, more joyfully aware of the budget.

I can’t say I’m sorry to anyone for liking bad science fiction movies, or for not wanting to get an accounting degree at night. Likewise, I won’t be making any amends for enjoying minimalist electronic music, or reading Plotinus half the night when I should be e-marketing an effective personal brand statement.

To the Universe itself, I can’t even apologize for being a crunchy white amalgamation of the perfect storm of dubious interests. Would it have been so bad to have a strong longing for micro-economics? I guess not.

The longing will be reserved for seeing an undiscovered cartoon, finding a rare toy, or building an electric dragster. The longing will be for a visit to any historical place, if only for a couple of minutes, just to let it wash over a little.

It will be for an entire afternoon spent over a coffee with a ballplayer from the 60’s listening. It will be the marker of a very successful month to swim with the largest green turtle you can find.

“No day shall erase you from the memory of time…” – Virgil

Don Garlits’ Clutch Explosion

March 31, 11

A truly amazing photograph of a childhood hero, Don Garlits.  Mr. Garlits was seriously injured as the result of an exploded clutch.

Most would have probably left their pursuit after such a devastating setback.  Yet, this led to a re-design of motor placement on modern dragsters.  Don returned to drag racing with renewed persistence, and continues to this day to remind people about the history of drag racing. 

Nothing could prepare me for the next photograph.  Here he’s racing a fighter plane on the deck of an aircraft carrier.  On the front of the car is a Fly Navy sticker like I’d traded for at school. Everyone had these stamped everywhere in 1975.  I had several stuck to my closet wall. 

Up until the age of 10 or so, this was probably one of the most amazing photographs I’d ever seen, along with a few others featuring ghosts or bigfoot.

How could such a thing be possible? 

Exposure to this kind of image as a kid just drags you towards the very idea of the impossible, the uncanny, the reality bending.  The impact of such an image fades over time, and that’s not necessarily a very good thing.  It’s dangerous to fail to be struck by the impossibility of things.

Lift

March 06, 11

http://airplanegroundschools.com

I wish we would stop to consider lift more often. Lift is the property that gives something the ability to be held up in air; to be suspended with supportive energy.

An idea or design root needs to find lift.

We don’t get to experience lift enough, and it’s important. How many of us never really get to experience it at all?

What are the consequences of a lift-free life?

I think we know the answer.

The experience of lift directly is probably part of the reason why it’s so easy to get addicted to flying or sailing or motocross riding. There’s a strong and definite moment of exhilaration when an airplane or boat achieves lift. It can be enough to carry you for awhile. It knocks something awake inside.  Try and find this aspect in your offering, whatever that might be.

Some have even gone as far as defining one of the main goals in life to be “keeping your spirit or mind aloft” – again, in sneaks lift. It’s probably why the experience of lift is so satisfying to many.

Another way that play tries to answer.

It does a great job of helping us forget the smaller needs.

The Snail of Zhongzhou

February 25, 11

http://sforsnail.blogspot.com

“There was a snail in Zhongzhou which thought all its life it had accomplished nothing and, after cursing itself roundly, made up its mind to have a big go at it.

Now, if it were to go to Mount Tai, it would have to spend more than three thousand years on the road, it thought; on the other hand, if it were to turn South and go to Jian Han, it would also take more than three thousand years to arrive there. It reckoned its own lifespan would afford neither journey, as it believed it would die soon.

Having reached that conclusion, it was overcome with grief and indignation, lamenting its misfortune for not being in a position to realize its ambition.

Eventually, it died on a heap of wormwood, and even the mole crickets and ants laughed at it.”

–Early Chinese Fable

Don’t be like the snail of Zhongzhou, find a way to play today and start robbing  the mole crickets and ants of their laughter.

Wilbur Doesn’t Play

February 23, 11

http://xenophilius.wordpress.com

We all need to find ways to jam econo to borrow a favorite line from The Minutemen. Time and money together can often be in short supply. All time no money, all money no time.

This idea leads back to the blending factor that I mentioned in The Birdman of Maui. You just couldn’t really tell when the Birdman was working, but he WAS working and had most of the obligations that many of us do. He longed for health insurance and a netflix subscription to watch Firefly.

You CAN run a highly effective business and somehow manage to keep your sense of play. Patagonia and many others have shown the way. But their formation was different. They weren’t trying to pull the quick cash sleight of hand to please the hot venture capitalist of the moment.

They built something they used regularly, improved on it, and started sharing with others. It was a form of a gift paid back in direct loyalty, not a robbery or hardsell. 

Can we find a point where play and work intersect and then hold on to that balance?

 That’s the tricky part.

Most of us build our life around our work, instead of our work around our life. We think this is always necessary, but is it? Despite the messages streamed at us in advertising, we will have to make specific choices. We’re gonna have to make sacrifices.

So then, is play a worthy sacrifice?

You tell me.

“Repression of the life force” – is one of the most common forms of psychological diagnoses. A pill can’t fix it. Translation: Wilbur doesn’t play.

Put another way, the “expression of the life force” is a great way to describe play itself.

What’s all this play stuff about anyways?

February 17, 11

There’s plenty going on in the world, donchya know. Isn’t it kind of strange to focus on play?

Not at all.

How could a book (The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang) written in the 1930’s, predict most of the shape we find ourselves in today?  One reason is because it drew from knowledge passed down over a couple thousand years, combined with the thoughts of a single person trying to understand the confines of his age. 

We think we’re the measure of everything. This leads straight to having no appreciation for anything that might actually matter – and, of course, we are constantly led away from recognizing that play itself is a noble goal. 

The whole arc of human experience towards play has been goosed. 

This is not some naïve hippie-daze view trotted out in the self help section to bundle with a Yanni download coupon either. Yutang knew all too well about the political cage, economics, war, strife and society of the East/West of his times. 

He still chose play, tea, and the comfort of his pipe. 

And this is part of why I’ve always loved the Taoist fables. These guys were always running around fishing for too long, cooking for too long, collecting turtles to feed, looking for plum wine in the strangest of places, and starting at the moon. They busied themselves picking lice out of their robes to give them some sunlight, only to return the Cancun ready lice to their robes – not wanting to disturb stuff too much. 

They knew that the kingdom was within.  Go ahead.  Leave it Undone.

Rajan Would Go

February 16, 11

We could all learn plenty from a 60 year old bull elephant named Rajan. 

He used to work hauling harvested trees around when he was younger.  Several years ago, I guess he just got tired of hauling those heavy trees and started wandering off into the surf more than once a day. 

Now he lives on an island in the Bay of Bengal, and cruises around a resort bumming peanuts off of tourists.  He has the perfect kind of built in snorkel, and apparently the attitude to match.

The amazing Jeff Yonover captured this image.

Haul your own trees, but don’t forget to head for the surf … Rajan Would Go. 

Does Play Even Matter?

February 11, 11

The many ways that the term ‘play’ is loaded with stigma never ceases to amaze me. I’ll save the interesting ways that the term is abused and hurled as a direct insult for another time.

Right now, I’m just asking why play even matters.  Few take the question very seriously.

We only need grapenuts, stairmasters, and a new model sports car to be happy, right? 

I don’t think so. 

Play is like a developmental protein

We can’t grow without it. Most of us aren’t playing much, so most of us aren’t growing much. I’m not saying we’re at zero growth, we’ve got to stumble around on some stuff that stretches us, but we aren’t giving play a chance to have an open channel back to inform us. 

In fact, our lives have become structured so far away from play, that some of us wouldn’t even know HOW to enjoy play anymore. This is bad. Really bad. It’s bad for our health, our families, our community, and our ability to tackle the BIG problems that confront us with a playful spirit. It will be play that guides us home and leads us to solutions. 

Play defeats focus on the self

Most kinds of play are brilliant at tearing us away from our need to constantly self-analyze and compare. If you’re being critical, overly competitive, or mean spirited in an activity – you are not playing. On the flip side, if you didn’t realize that 3 hours has passed and you’re still having fun and don’t really want whatever you’re doing to end, you are playing. 

Play supports your sense of purpose 

When you’re playing, and especially winding down from play, you may experience an immediate sense of clarity or magnified purpose. This happens all the time as kids, we’ve simply forgotten about this very important series of experiences. We don’t play. We focus on self. We forget the lessons play had for us all along. 

So, play matters. Play away, friends.