I sometimes imagine myself interviewing for a position at a university and, after waxing eloquent about my qualifications and experience, suddenly confessing the truth about myself. I give a nonchalant little laugh and shrug my shoulders, saying, “It’s all lies, you know — I’m not half as confident or capable as I pretend to be.” This fictional scenario that plays so often in my head is telling — not so much of my level of self-confidence, but of how I perceive the relationship between playing (or doing) and being.
I thought that my ‘playing at’ or pretending to be a confident, capable person was necessarily pretense because it took effort and did not feel easy or natural. I perceived the role that I had assumed as a mask that hid my true self rather than as a mediator that was capable of presenting (and shaping) my true self.
I want to eliminate this sort of language from my mind and speech. It is the popular language of the West — the language of pretense. It is a way of viewing human, bodily expression* as merely an outer shell, a shadow of the real, a farce. In this thinking, what we do is only an expression of what we think and thus the Idea (thought/metaphysicality) is privileged over the Expression (physicality). The expression is thus a necessary evil, a needed farce and doorway to the reality beyond. Humans are incapable of participating in this reality because it is always elsewhere, always hovering behind the mask and never entering into it.
I want to suggest that there is a better, more authentic way to view the world and human existence in it: by acting, we actually become.
What if what we call ‘playing,’ ‘acting,’ or ‘pretending’ is not, after all, a fluid expression of an eternal word within us — a false representation of a static inner being? What if these roles we assume are not simply clothes that we put on and remove nor, on the other hand, unchanging facets of being which we must either embrace as an ideal or mourn our inability to embrace? What if nature and nurture are woven together in an endless relationship of giving and taking? What if all this pretending is making us real? — pretending which is not preparation for a future reality alone, but is itself real. We spend the whole of our lives preparing for the moment which has already been, is now, and will be forever. It is not timelessness or the removal of time, but all time, all being, somehow concentrated in the present moment.
The whole is fully present in the partial. The partial, however, is not merely a guide through which to imagine the whole, as if we could somehow experience the whole by seeing each puzzle piece separately and then fitting them mentally together. We do not see one aspect that helps us to envisage the whole; rather, by coming face to face with one aspect, we come face to face with the whole, even as the whole remains hidden to us. We see and do not see. We speak with God face to face, though no one can see God and live.
*I mean bodily expression in a broad sense — any human art or action would fall under this category because human action is always bodily action. A disembodied spirit cannot produce art, which belongs in the realm of somatic existence.