We have all observed the intense absorption of children in play, that wide-eyed concentration in which both the child and the world vanish, and there is only the play. Grown-ups involved in work they love also can experience such moments. It is possible to become what you are doing; these times come when pouf!—out you go, and there is only the work. The intensity of your focused concentration and involvement maintains and augments itself, your physical needs decrease, your gaze narrows, your sense of time stops. You feel alert and alive; effort becomes effortless. You lose yourself in your own voice, in the handling of your tools, in your feelings for the rules. Absorbed in the pure fascination of the game of that particular medium, you forget time and place and who you are. The noun of self becomes a verb. This flashpoint of creation in the present moment is where work and play merge.
Buddhists call this state of absorbed, selfless, absolute concentration samadhi. Samadhi is best known to be attainable through the practice of meditation, thought there is also walking samadhi , cooking samadhi, sandcastle-building samadhi, writing samadhi, fighting samadhi, lovemaking samadhi, flute-playing samadhi. When the self-clinging personality somehow drops away, we are both entranced and alert at the same time.
Babies of our own and other species seem to be often, if not usually, in a state of samadhi, and also have the unique property of putting everyone around them into a state of samadhi as well. Happy, relaxed, unmindful of self, concentrated, the baby envelops us in her own state of divine delight and expansiveness. Even when a baby is squalling and miserable, and making everyone else miserable too, she is whole and thorough about it, and is generating her own special atmosphere of squalling samadhi and misery-making samadhi…
…One of the great ways of emptying the self, along with meditation, dance, love, and play, is tuning a musical instrument. In tuning an instrument we are forced to obliterate outside noises and distractions: As the sound gets closer and closer to the pure vibration we are trying for, as the pitch moves up and down over a smaller and smaller range, we find body and mind progressively dropping away. We enter more and more deeply into the sound. We enter into a kind of trance state. This intensified listening is deep play—total immersion in the game. And once we pick up that instrument to play, our friends the audience will enter into a similar state of mind more readily in proportion to the care we have given to that process of tuning. What we discover, mysteriously, is that in tuning the instrument we tune the spirit.
An even simpler samadhi exercise is this: Look at whatever is in front of you and say, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” to it, like Molly Bloom’s life-affirming, love-affirming mantra at the end of Ulysses. The universe of possibilities becomes visibly, tangibly larger, over a period of mere moments. When you say, “No, No, No,” the world gets smaller and heavier. Try it both ways and verify the truth of this very simple method. Look at water lilies or other highly vascular flowering plants. When the sun comes out, the flowers unfold before your eyes; when the sun goes away, they close. What the sun’s radiation and the lilies say to each other, translated through the biophysical language of chlorophyll, sugar, protein, and water, is “Yes! Yes! Yes!”