2008-10 Princeton, NJ USA (review)

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    On October 18th, 2008 the “typists” behind the Second Life avatars met for the first ever Play as Being fest at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. Thirteen in total smiling in anticipation, across a long conference table in the cave like Dillworth room, to share our experiences with “Play as Being,” a group discussion based in Second Life. Thirteen swaying to and fro in their swivel chairs, some attacking with delight their stimmy toys, kindly provided by Adelene, and others looking around the room wondering where their avatar had led them this time. Dorothy I don't think we're in Bieup or Rieul anymore! Some “typists” appeared different from how I had imagined them and others fit my image exactly. Beyond the appearance I felt like I knew the group quite well, though for most I couldn't tell you where they worked, where they were born, or their real last name. It was a sense of knowing a self that transcended those things or at least was attempting to transcend those things.


    As I sat and waited before the fest officially began, I reflected on why exactly I was there. Whether the timing of Play as Being and of this fest was as extraordinary for the others. For me the appearance of Play as Being into my life this past April did indeed seem fateful. It came at a time when I had lost my appreciation for the world and not as a result of some great tragedy, but from a feeling of being suffocated by the mundaneness of everyday life. No matter how “exciting” I made my life it eventually became “boring” and the more I scrambled up taller and taller trees, getting better views, conquering more territory, and eating even more delicious fruit, I found that I was still just a little monkey, a little monkey queen of the monkey race. I had resigned myself to the trap, of my self, my body, my life, my world. I felt limited by it all and yet I forced myself to finally to accept the limitation as one that could never really be overcome. It was in this giving up that something truly magical began to happen. I began to realize the absurdity of the expectations I had for my life, the illusions I held of being important, smart, wealthy, better. I had to ask myself who was I trying to be better than? Better than you? Better than me? It made no sense and that confusion opened the door to a new path.


    When I went through the door I found myself on the path of “Play as Being” and amongst a lovely group of individuals who were as open and confused (said fondly) as me. People who were willing to admit that they didn't know who they were anymore. This was so refreshing after living in a world (a dear little place law school) where survival meant aggressively asserting the “self” and the correctness of that self's version of the truth. It was through this group that I found people with whom to walk down this newly found path. Along the journey I found in each individual a part of myself and in this recognition I could embrace a greater sense of my own humanity, and to “allow” for all of us including myself to “play” out the human drama, to fall down, get up, and not to judge the various roles and appearances we took on along the way. To wear our selves as “clothes” and not as “skin.” To recognize “Being” as the ground we share, the life inside each one of us, which is always with us, supporting us through the thick and thin.


    As I wondered all of this, the typists, now seated, began to realize that there was nothing keeping us from starting this one day fest, and to take advantage of this rare opportunity to share one another's real life presence. The fest opened by going around the room and sharing what attracted us to Play as Being and what we hoped to talk about over the course of the day. Some topics of interest for particular guardians in this part of the session:

    • Pia: Being as a resource in daily life and in overcoming fear.

    • Sylectra: Playfulness as a resource in learning how to connect with others better.

    • Threedee: 1) the group here is oriented more specifically than typical academic workshop meetings yet at the same time the background of the members is more diverse. 2) Being as a “feather” floating through the air, one cannot “catch” it by grasping for it but rather placing a hand in its general direction and allowing it to settle there on its.

    • Sky: Going from seeking to seeing

    • Stevenaia: Connection between Being and Love



    If I could pick out the predominant theme of the morning session I would say it was about ways in which we access Being in our own lives. This discussion carried over a bit into the afternoon session and the next most prominent theme there was about Time and its relationship to Being.


    In relation to how we access Being in our own lives a discussion took off around the notion of “seeking” v. “seeing” reality. “Seeking” suggesting a sort of grasping and “seeing” as a sort of deeper awareness of whatever is already present. We then asked what is the way to cultivate such a “seeing.” Is it through discipline and trained discernment and control of sensory input or is it about relaxing in and a letting go of all control into that great river called Being. This turned into a discussion of doing without doing or wu-wei and the idea that sometimes action is inaction and inaction can be action depending on the context. You might have a map of the terrain but until you are walking it you won't know what it takes to get you to your destination. It may require some climbing, some crawling, some stopping and resting, but there is no way to know until you are there. Until you smell the air and feel which way the wind is blowing you are not really able to judge what “way” is optimal. So how in these moments do we make a decision, how do we know? What informs this knowing? What are the tools we have at hand?


    Adelene and Threedee brought in a unique categorization “Neuro-Diverse” (ND) v. “Neuro typical” (NTs) to describe the different neurological “tools” available to different people. They suggested that there are ways of knowing which are accessible to humans in general, but because of our different “wiring” configurations, NTs may not actually have the capacity to access certain ways of knowing that Nds can. Adelene used the example of how NTs often communicate using small talk and chit chat as a sort of social grooming as opposed to real communication. This social grooming operates much like how animals sniff each other. To better understand what we are dealing with we ask one another questions like “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” “Did you see the ballgame last night?” but the real “knowing” of the other is actually nonverbal. Such non verbal communication may be about whether this person is looking into your eyes when they speak, are they looking off into space, do they seem nervous, relaxed, do they look like they want to kill you, hug you, are they interested in you and what you are saying. Which suggests perhaps that an ND person picks up the information without the verbal component of social grooming involved in communication.


    Sky and Caledonia pointed out that while we may all have different ways of accessing the nonverbal “information,” the resource we are drawing from is the same regardless of the wiring involved. The information, or knowledge is “out there” beyond each individual and therefore each person regardless of their wiring has access to it. The differences in the ways that individuals may access this knowledge may be informative of debunking our fixed assumptions about what humans are “wired” to understand but ultimately Being is something beyond all of these individual capabilities/inabilities. Drawing upon Being as a resource is taking place all the time and yet “access” to it seems so mysterious. Why is that so? How does one access Being in a continuous way? I have the impression that many of us in this group have had flashes of a sense of “Being” in our lives but not in any kind of sustained way. Why is that so? How could Being be right here at our finger tips and yet so difficult to hold on to? Why do we try to hold on when we know that “holding” or possessing is impossible?


    The morning session ended and the group broke for lunch and a walk around the IAS grounds. The trees surrounding the campus exploded in bright fall colors of orange, red, and yellow. The intensity of the colorful leaves blowing around me in the wind and then settling onto the small jewel like pond felt almost surreal. I hugged my coat around me and smiled as I watched the procession of real life Guardians walking out of the woods. I felt as though I was watching a beautifully choreographed ritual dance, each movement of the trees, water, and Guardians synchronized. I wondered whether they realized that they were a part of such a perfect dance and whether they noticed my eyes watching them. What a marvelous time of year to have been in Princeton!


    In the afternoon session we started to look more closely at this question of how we access Being. Pema in true professorial style got up in front of the blackboard and drew a diagram of Being as different points on a straight line. On one end was the “small being” or the “You Seeing”, close to that was an initial sense of "Being" as what can shine through when you step aside, and all the way at the other end was a final sense of "Being", as a kind of “Enlightened You Seeing.” However, apart fromthis linear progression, Pema pointed to a third kind of Being, as in "Being Seeing" that was the whole blackboard, including the line with the previous two "Being" points. For a follow-up discussions of these ideas go to the 2008.11.04 Dialogue Pema and Stim. Stevenaia made a modification to the drawing by creating entry points all around the circle representing “You Seeing,” to emphasize the way in which Being can permeate the self in different ways, some unexpected and not necessarily in a linear “path” way. Being in this sense is not necessarily arrived at from “one path,” Stevenaia's modification was a nice reminder that the diagram was one only a pointer. Being does not involve steps 1,2, & 3. “You Seeing,” “Enlightened Seeing,” and “Being Seeing” Being is always present in all three however the naming of different forms in which we know it or gain access to it, perhaps aids us to increase the entry ways.


    At some point Stevenaia suggested that we all draw pictures taking a piece of paper, quickly drawing something on it, and passing it on in the spirit of “playing” as Being. It reminded me of an exercise in an Improvisation class I once took. What I found most fascinating in the class was that at some point when we were “in the zone” or in the flow, we knew immediately whose turn it was to contribute and that person also knew. In those exercises it felt as though we were not the “doers,” the source of the creative energy, but rather we were gaining access to something that was already in the room that wanted to express itself. I attempted to use this experience in this drawing exercise, letting each drawing speak to me and tell me what it wanted and often I felt I knew it almost immediately. In the end we had some pretty entertaining drawings!


    After the drawing and a break we got back in on the topic of Time and Zeroth time or fourth time. A notion of time that goes beyond “ordinary time,” involving a past, present, and future. Adelene picked up some yellow play dough, which she had brought for all of to play with, and molded a model of time as tube. If one sliced the tube up into discs it would represent moments of time and while we experience time as a sequence of those moments there is no actual separation in fact from one moment to the next from one end of the tube to the other. I could understand this as a model of “ordinary time” and how it might hint at ways of dealing with higher dimensions in time and space, but I couldn't see a clear connection with timeless time or Zeroth time. Someone brought up the self's relationship to time. It made me wonder about what a self without a present would be? Is this Being? Is this Zeroth time? At some point towards the end there was a silence that fell over the group. I looked around at all of the thoughtful faces, some staring intently at an invisible point in space pondering these notion of time and Being. I wondered if we would ever figure it out, myself individually or the group as whole. At the end of the day I felt as though we had just started to mesh as a group and to grapple with some of these more complex topics. It felt like a beginning more than an end. I look forward to what the next year and the next fest hold for us all and meanwhile I look forward to continuing to “Play as Being” with all of you in Second Life.





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    Originally written on 01:40, 11 Nov 2008
    I think Gen gave a rich overview of the PaBfest day. Thanks so much, Gen.
    For me the realization that different views, RL and SL, which may coincide or differ and yet each be a relevant aspect of reality, the very personal connections, and the shared umbrella of the PaB endeavor will remain important memories of this weekend. And with regard to time, that this 'fest' could occur just after 6 months from inception of PaB remains rather remarkable.
    Posted 17:53, 9 Apr 2010
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