It’s good to set up boundaries and rules which correspond to our highest instincts of play, to approach the world as game — the way a child does. This gives existence an effervescent quality — even if we are engaged in serious adult play, whatever that is. Games and negotiations are what we do in any case — and how much more powerful is our game if it is consciously played. By by delineating our territory, setting out certain formalities and rituals, life becomes easier to navigate. We soon discover that freedom is not found in what appears to be freedom, but in limitations. And conversely, if we give ourselves too much freedom — too many options in other words — life become a real prison (which may be the problem of the American dream, incidentally).
Freedom to do ‘whatever we want’ is the freedom of a two-year-old — who is totally imprisoned by impulsivity. Mayhem may be beautiful in a child but is undignified in an adult — an adult baby is something terrible to behold. Yes, existence gets more narrow with age, there is a sense of losing freedom, of sacrifice to responsibility. A sort of vigilance is needed to maintain a sense of play, which means increasing the stakes of the game, though constant practice and refinement of the rules and boundaries. If they become to ridged, the joy gets lost. If there are no boundaries, there is no game, and therefore no play.
A certain kind of external freedom is stolen away, when you get married or have children — and yet, that freedom overrated compared to the freedom that is found in the slavery to a higher responsibility. Carl Jung said that life begins at 40, because at that age we are less self-obsessed, and therefore happier. A sense of ritual and timing has imposed itself, and the rules of the game are more clear; the games of others are more transparent, and we are less tripped up by the fates — therefore we can act with wisdom. After 40, rather than conquer the surfaces of mountains and oceans, we prefer to explore their depths. There is another kind of internal freedom which comes with exhaustion: the freedom of having no options or exit, and therefore being able to appreciate a child, a star, a coke can in an alley. Everything that appears is somewhat miraculous, if we can see it.
The aches and pains of middle and old age are not an obstacle to a meaningful life. In fact, without them we would just be jellyfish, overly satisfied and not curious. Trying to find a stress-free existence is the occupation of a jellyfish — who floats in nothingness and occasionally stings one who is unlucky to fall into their trap. Lazy people without vision or a sense of adventure become just like that. They become dull and poisonous.
We have to be a child to enter the kingdom of heaven, not in the sense of remaining infantile, but in our ability to constantly rise up into subtler domains of play.