“Games are clues to the future. And their serious cultivation now is perhaps our only salvation.” Bernard Suits
This is the latest in a series of books and articles that Bernie De Koven has written thus far to share his thoughts and (especially) his feelings about one of the most important and yet least understood and appreciated elements in human experience: play. Consider this brief excerpt from an article he contributed to The New Games Book, published in 1976: “Because the games are new, we get a sense that they’re experimenting. No one guarantees anything. If a game doesn’t work, we try to fix it, to see if we can make it work. After all, it’s a new game. It’s not official yet. In fact, we’re the officials, all of us, every one of us who comes to play. We make the judgments. We each take the responsibility for discovering what we can enjoy together.”
Later, as I read The Well-Played Game, a book first published in 1978, I was again reminded of another book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990), in which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses a state (i.e. “flow”) during which creative artists, for example, are not consciously thinking about the next note to play or the next stroke to make on a painting. Athletes call it being in a “zone” as when Michael Jordan feels that he will make every a basketball shot or when Tiger Woods feels that he will sink every golf putt.
That does not mean that their actions are random or mechanical or that optimal performance will continue indefinitely. Those in a “flow” feel as if guided by a set of internalized rules or strategies. These rules influence the result but those involved do not need to consciously “will” each intention in action. Results occur naturally if allowed to. This is precisely what happens on hundreds of public basketball courts and playing fields throughout the U.S. when games are played without officials.
I thought about the aforementioned essay and book as I began to read A Playful Path, De Koven’s latest book. They can serve as an excellent introduction but that is not essential. It is easy to explain what this book is about. At least here are what De Koven shares that are of greatest interest and value to me:
o What play is…and isn’t
o What a game is…and isn’t
o Playful relationships with family members, friends, business associates, et al
o Why activities and initiatives (e.g. formal, structured games) will — and won’t — nourish playfulness
o How and why “letting go” can help us to become joyful
o Why joy is preferable to pleasure
o Channeling Walt Whitman, why each of us is “large” and “contains multitudes”
However, only those who read it can explain what it means to them — the nature and extent of its value — because each has followed a different path up to the point of becoming engaged with De Koven’s narrative. What the book means to them will largely depend on the path they then follow. A Playful Path is Bernie De Koven’s memoir of his own spiritual journey thus far, a journey that has nourished him, one that has been a mirror as well as a window.
One final point. With all due respect to the information, insights, and counsel to be found in this book, we are well advised to remember this ancient Hebrew aphorism: “Man plans and then God laughs.” That is probably what Raphael Sabatini had mind in the opening line of one of his novels, Scaramouche: “He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world is mad.” To laugh is to breathe.
Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.