There is wider truth in the sports adage, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” The point is non-attachment to results; joy in the engagement, in life itself. Spiritual seekers tend to move attention away from conventional diversions to the ever-abiding peace of pure Being. This shift of focus at first brings a freedom from the “agony and ecstasy” of competition. So we might conclude that it’s unwise or even unnecessary to “play the game.”
While this perspective is useful in detaching from the wheel of fortune and its inevitable suffering, it’s not an end point in my playbook. I would add the step of understanding that even with a spiritual perspective, it’s worth playing the game.
Once understanding the futility of ego attachments, the impermanence of our achievements and gains, all worldly activity can be challenged as irrelevant, so much wasted effort. It may seem we are best off sitting in our cave – or on our sunny veranda, or with friends in the smoky pub – doing nothing. And perhaps that’s good enough, if that is our true inclination.
For some of us, driven by creative urges (or, you might say, other more suspect motivations of self-expression rooted in psychological dysfunction, unfulfilled needs and unconscious projections) the urge to “keep doing” is not so easily put aside. For this tribe of achievers it is indeed helpful to gain the perspective of self-transcendence, which is to say, identifying self with universal, undifferentiated being: the wave or droplet feeling itself as ocean. Inactive individual being, however, is not a one-size-fits-all substitute for individual doing. It is just the other side of the coin of the ongoing cosmic casino.
being + doing = Universal Being/Doing
When I am engaged in creative projects or worldly endeavors, whether in the realm of “work” or “play,” I strive for success. That motivation is natural to the activity. It goes back to the sports adage, its implied emphasis on playing the game the right way. Each game or sphere of activity has its own rules and standards of competence and excellence. Why engage in the activity at all if one does not wish to play with and within those parameters? Yet again, we must be cautious not to get too sucked into the game’s goals, the pyramid of winning and ultimate success for just a chosen few.
It’s a fine line. Even top athletes and other performers recognize and acknowledge it. Yes, winning is everything. And yes, you just have to do your best and let the results take care of themselves. For most of us who engage in the theatre of life, success is relative. We make our mark somewhere in the middle of the great bell curve of human achievement, and that’s okay. We’ve played our part, even if just a bit part in the unending drama.
The life of a spectator, or ascetic, or cultural dropout, is always a choice, or valid fate in life, too, if that suits your persona. In the end it’s not about what you do or whether you do it at all. It’s about: when you do it, do it with grace, with natural passion and joy, expressing your innate talents and desires freely and fully.
For the sadhu, that full expression means maximizing the potential of one’s human consciousness. For the “non-dual” spiritual adept, it means letting even that agenda go completely. For the man or woman in the worldly middle, it means striking a balance between peaceful acceptance and active engagement.
It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. Knowing that you don’t have to play at all, you choose to partake of the divine dance of Lila – because the playground is there. And since you’re here in this earthly arena for a limited time, you might as well give it your best shot.