Today, we celebrate the spirit of independence that exists within every human being. For many of us, the Declaration of Independence is a truly inspiring document, mostly because of the following words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
I am moved by the fact that our nation was founded on the notion that each of us is born with the right to pursue Happiness--with a capital H. But having this right does not guarantee us happiness. In fact, we all know people for whom the pursuit of happiness seems to interfere with the actual experience of being happy. In fact, we ourselves might even be those people.
Benjamin Franklin observed, "The U. S. Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself." How do we stop chasing happiness long enough to be happy? Part of the answer has to do with the recognition of an important paradox of human existence. At some levels, we are independent beings, but at others, we are very much interdependent. Our happiness depends, to some degree, on others.
For one thing, we do not exist independently of anyone. Our parents brought us into the world; our teachers showed us how to function in it; myriad people, animals, and plants helped to feed us; and the people and things we love have shaped our decisions and determined the course of our lives. In return, we need to acknowledge the role we play in the lives of others. The welfare of someone depends on us: our child, our pet, our spouse, our student. our neighbor.
We are interdependent (whether we like it or not). Our happiness is linked inextricably to that of others. That is why we have no choice but to be compassionate. In the words of the Dalai Lama, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” To practice compassion means to adopt the other person's position, to identify with their suffering, and to do whatever we can to ease their burden.
It is time for a Declaration of Interdependence. We stand to benefit limitlessly from acknowledging that all of us are in this together. By sharing our happiness with those around us and dedicating whatever benefits come our way to others so that they may benefit as well, we are only maximizing the stream of gifts that comes into our lives. The more we give away, the more we receive. It's really that simple.
I want to tell you about a powerful tool for inspiration. In the right hands, it can heal illness; lead to creative breakthroughs; overcome sadness, anxiety and grief; cause lives to change course; and even transform entire communities and societies. What is this extraordinary elixir? The answer is...PLAY! I have examples of how play has helped accomplish all of these ends. But the beauty of play is that we don't ever think of it as a tool. Play is its own reward. We do it purely for its own sake. And when we are really immersed in play, we're not worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. In fact, sometimes we might literally disappear into the act of play. Many times, I have lost myself entirely in play, forgetting about myself and the concerns of my life entirely. That is the beauty of play.
For me, play is a spiritual path as profound as any. Meditators wish for the kind of single-minded focus that children attain when they're playing. Spiritual devotees seek the kind of rapture that comes effortlessly to people doing something they really love--just for the fun of it!
I feel so strongly about the power and value of play that I wrote a book about it, The Way of Play. Here is the first half of a talk that I just gave to a book club associated with an organization called Mama Time:
By clicking on the book cover pic on that page, you'll be able to hear my talk and watch the accompanying slides. Because we ran out of time, I am looking forward to being invited back at a later date to do Part II of the presentation.
The story of how I ended up connecting with Mama Time is pretty amusing in its own right. I'm going to save that for a future Blog Post. In the meantime, let me know what you think of the presentation. Enjoy!
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