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We play with Paste by Emily Dickinson, 1862

We play at Paste –

We play at Paste –

Till qualified, for Pearl –

Then, drop the Paste –

And deem Ourself a fool –

The Shapes, tho’, were similar,

And our new Hands

Learned Gem Tactics

Practicing Sands –[1]

                                                            F282 (1862) 320 Emily Dickinson

Play Leads to Learning

Poetry, like spirituality, is personal. Both require our willingness to study and reflect and search for the message within our mind. We search for our own connotation in the poem and in our life experiences.

Some readers consider it a poem about childhood and maturity, others consider it a reference to love and love affairs – in this piece we will see it as a spiritual message without rebuke.

The title, We Play at Paste. suggests that ‘we’ refers to each of us. A claim of universal play.

Play, Leads to Learning sums it up. We play with Paste is not a fool’s game although we may think it is. It depends on how we understand it.

‘Play’ has several connotations from amusement to engaging with a thing. We have indeed amused ourselves and engaged with things that we later realize are Paste. This realization comes from experience not from any sort of rule or belief.

Nothing goes to waste even when we value it as fake. Fake meaning specious, deceptive, and fraudulent. Everything comes to awaken us. We all yearn to know and find the real gem, but often are unable to do so.

We all have been fooled one time or another.

Being fooled is a universal experience just as spirituality is a universal awakening.

Paste in this context refers to a heavy, clear material used to make an imitation gemstone. It looks real, genuine but it turns out to be an imitation. If we are not attentive, it fools us. It is meant to fool us.

Playing around rests on our lack of attention that comes from desire. The desire clouds our ability to realize the Paste we play with is costume jewelry. It may glitter, it may look good, but it turns out to be a fake.

We get bent-out-of-shape when someone else suggests we have been “fooled.” Sadly, we are often the last person to see the truth of our foolhardiness.

Hold on! All is not lost. We need experiences such as playing with Paste to wake up. Yes, indeed it is a blessing in disguise. Apparent misfortune, if understood, teaches us to look for the real gem.

We recognize that we have played with what is not real. Real meaning things that are impermanent; that which do not sate our desires. Yes, there is disappointment that follows this realization but that is short-lived. The awareness far outweighs the sense of being a fool. The Playing was in the end a necessary experience.

We play at Paste –

Till qualified, for Pearl –

Then, drop the Paste –

And deem Ourself a fool –


All the foolish playing around with an imitation qualifies us to find a real gemstone.

What a relief that there is no wasting of time. Playing with Paste comes to awaken us, to teach us even when we think otherwise. We do not need to judge or measure the things we do. If we realize that everything awakens us, whether painful, foolish, or idiotic, we find a bit of gold.

But as we all know, gold is hidden ‘in them thar’ hills. There is work to do. Knowing that the gold is hidden requires a willingness to mine the gold. We must extract value from the experience of playing with paste till qualified for Pearl. What did we learn?

Once we recognize that we were practicing with the paste to qualify for handling pearls, a tiny light comes on. The light gives us the wherewithal to study with the next line, Then, drop the Paste – which translates to:

…give that foolish activity up, straight away. STOP playing with paste.

This requires that we do not harangue or criticize ourselves or others. We accept the situation. We see that playing with paste requires dropping the fooling around with the fake stuff of the world.

Drop the Paste. Even though we tend to blame ourselves or the costume jewelry. If we go into agitation in the mind, we find thoughts of self recrimination. Discard all blame and begin to dig for the gold that is hidden there.

The Shapes, tho’, were similar,

And our new Hands

Learned Gem Tactics

Practicing Sands –[2]

The fifth line is a gem!

The shapes, tho’, were similar is a strong explanation of what leads us to mistake the material world as the real deal. It looks like the real jewel! We get confused by the glitter and promises of the material realm and find ourselves caught in consuming more of a thing thinking it is real.

As we accept playing around, as we accept that we were fooled, we study the gemstones and see how easily we were caught unawares. Fake jewels look very much like the real thing. When we know we have been fooled, we acquire new Hands. And with this new skill we recognize we need to learn how to manage real gemstones.

Nothing is wasted. No one is blamed. No one is ultimately a fool when we recognize that we require practice.

Everything IS practice. Playing with Paste leads to learning Gem Tactics!

Humming Bird

Author: Fly

Old Moon

Zen Contemplative of the Order of Hsu Yun

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