Saturday, January 17, 2009

Playing Hide and Seek

Playfulness beams me on! I love to play!

Play is the exultation of the possible.
~ Martin Buber

Children everywhere, in every culture, play hide and seek. They love it - and so do I.

The only time hide and seek isn't fun is when the seeker doesn't really seek; we all know that's cheating - and mean!

Even free play assumes the "scene" of the game, and that's important. Not all "games" are fun! We're all familiar with someone, maybe even someone close to us, who takes pleasure in "playing games." We all know players.

Sometimes hide and seek is more metaphorically played. I wonder if that universal experience of playing hide and seek might not be part of the communication problems between people, especially between people who love one another. What we've forgotten is that games require the scene of the game. It seems obvious, but if no-one signals the underlying structure of play, things can get very hurtful very quickly.

We hide ourselves to see if the seeker will care enough to seek us. We seek when the hider isn't actually hiding. That doesn't work out well.

hide and seek 2 by =Nocturnal-Devil on deviantART

I'm not suggesting some ritualized invocation of the commencement, exactly, although I can picture a doleful official drone:

"At the very moment when I blow this whistle, we will commence a collaboration in a game of perspective, memory, and distinct roles under a commonly agreed-upon set of rules. The role designations will be hider/seeker (questioner/questioned, pursuer/pursued, etc.). The more time and energy that you put into your role, the more points (cred, mojo, rewards) you will be credited with, but if you do not perform according to the expectations of this role, you will lose whatever credits you might have accumulated up to this point. Ignorance of your role is no excuse."

Yeah. That would be silly, but we do this all the time - without signaling it at all.

Once someone gets into the habit of reacting as though they were participating in such a game, it is very easy to assume that the other person is consciously participating, too. Play cannot be playful without some mutual assent. Without agreement, the "game" is just a form of sociopathology.

There has to be some indication of the game-scene, what counts as the boundary and what counts as the realm of play. How long is the game to last? Is it a competition? Is the whole idea of the game to transverse the boundaries of it? Or are there layers, with different boundary conditions for each?

Sometimes the signals can be very minimal, especially if two people know one another very well, but they have to be communicated somehow. If that doesn't happen, then all sorts of projections and insecurities and fears start bubbling into being, even when the other person isn't intending to manipulate at all.

What's the solution if you find yourself thrashing around in this space?

You could try to identify whether or not, in fact, you are involved in a game-scene. This is easier for group settings: national diplomacy, family drama, church community rituals, the courtroom, or a doctor's visit. If you choose to navigate the game-scene on its own terms - assuming you've understood the roles and the rules (they sometimes change) - then that's a choice you can make a little more mindfully. Sometimes being constructive in those spaces requires a little visit to your internal meta-level to be able to (imaginatively or actually) subvert outworn expectations, but at least these scenes and games are recognizable and held in something like the "common" sense of culture/kinship/generational networks.

Things are more dynamic - and confusing - between two people who are friends and/or lovers. The Buddhists have what is probably a very accurate idea about the kind of ego-detachment that truly nourishes loving hearts, but it's pretty difficult to detach at times.

Sometimes the scene is invisible.

Sometimes the game is unknowable.

Sometimes you assume that there is a game when there isn't.

Sometimes you think you know your role in the game, and you discover that you don't.

Sometimes someone else plays a game, but you haven't been invited to join in as an equal.

There have been books on courtship "rules," for example, that play with psychology in just this way. "Is it too soon to call her?" The scary thing is that many of these games work, even if they are horribly manipulative.

It's also very easy to assume games are being played - even if they aren't (or - even if the ones that are being played are relatively common and benign).

Still, it's just a creepy-crawly feeling to wonder what game is being played, a bit like those dreams where you're on stage but you don't know the play or your role and you have no idea what your lines are. One of the aspects of that position that is so awful is that you have to start second-guessing yourself, checking your systems for paranoia, and so on.

Authentic friendship and/or love can only involve such games when they are mutual, playful, and fun. I'm not sure you can really be in a love relationship at all unless you have established trust around this. Then, when it's "game time," it can be just as fun as playing hide and seek was, as exciting as truth or dare. You can play in that space created between you by both of you - and share all sorts of divinely enjoyable intimacies there.

However, if you are playing games without signaling and setting out the game scene, don't be too surprised if your partner doesn't want to play. It's just too scary and hurtful, and most of us are pretty vulnerable when we really care for someone.

If you expect something of others because of the game going on in your head, you could save yourself a lot of heartache by at least communicating the expectations that you have. Better yet - lose the expectations and pay more attention to actual behavior and communication. The gap between your template and an actual person will always be too large to bridge, and if you overlay your vision over someone else, you will never have the chance to know them.

From the other side - if you never trust anyone enough to let them see you, then you will never know if they loved you or not. You weren't there, just a simulation of who you thought you should be interacted with that other person. And you lost every moment together that you could have had - and maybe, just maybe that person would have "got you" and loved you anyway.

Hmm... well, got kind of carried away there by the locomotive of thought, but thinking and writing are also forms of play (to me).

When was the last time you really played?

Why not play hide and seek right now? It's fun! Even in the cold.

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
~ Kahlil Gibran


The Mind of a Mom said...

I always hated Hid-n-seek. You always found the best spot and then realized that you had to go pee and you give yourself up almost on purpose.

Ju Ann said...

The last time I really played was very very long ago!

Ok I shall gather my friends and embarrass them all by forcing them to play hide and seek with me. :P

What a fun post! :)