Community Life

To See a World in a Tray of Sand: The World Game in Auroville

If you can build any world you can imagine, what would it look like? The World Game – also known as ‘sand play’ – gives children and adults the space to create this world. With the help of a box of sand and a large variety of miniature objects, the subconscious is given a free space to express. Brought to Auroville in the 1970’s, the World Game has been almost continuously offered to Auroville kids as part of a holistic education. We spoke to Aikya, who is the latest in a string of practitioners offering this imaginative activity in Auroville.

Footsteps in the Sand

The World Game was originally developed in the 1920’s by Margaret Lowenfeld, a pioneer of play therapy. In Auroville, the World Game or ‘Sandboxes’ was brought in by a Jungian psychiatrist, Austin Delaney. Austin had introduced the boxes at Equals-One, a schooling project of the Ashram, in the early 1970’s. He had thousands of miniature objects that could be used to make scenes and setups in the sandbox, a wooden box the size of a drawer. It was a huge part of early education in Auroville – at some point, each child would make a sandbox almost every day! In a place where there was not always a common language between the children, the sandboxes were a way for expression that didn’t require words.

In Heidi Watts’ historical account of the sandboxes, Shraddavan notes how important they were in helping the kids develop. Life had its complexities – out on the barren plain, with a mix of languages and cultures meeting in a keet hut school: “One way to meet the individual needs of the students was through the sand boxes… It is amazing what children said through their boxes. They were very helpful in difficult situations.” Unconscious stress was given shape and released through the sandbox, inviting children back into the space of the heart instead of the energy of the mind.

Creating Worlds

The rectangular sandbox creates a limitation on the world, but with the miniatures – of people, animals, trees, houses, flowers, and everything else you can imagine – and a variety of craft materials children can create any world they want. The basic tray is 28” x 19” and 3 inches deep, half filled with sand. The inside of the tray is painted blue so that when an area is exposed it suggests water. As Heidi notes, “The children can make whatever they want with these simple materials, lingering over one box for an hour, or making several boxes one after the other. There are no specific instructions, and no distractions to interfere with their concentration.”

The benefit of the sandboxes lies in the free expression offered to the child, where the facilitator is there to witness. If invited by the child, a conversation might start on the sandbox, and pictures are taken for later reference. According to Aikya, the sandboxes are not used in Auroville in the ‘therapeutic’ way, where the final sandbox is discussed and interpreted by the therapist. “As a facilitator you are very silent basically, but you are open and keep the presence – a presence which is neutral, but appreciative and supporting, and ready to help if there is a need, or to have a dialogue if there is a need, or invite a story when a child wants to.”

Ropes to God

The sandboxes can be a way for children to access their deeper wisdom. “Especially children, when they are small and pure, untouched by the environment – that untouched space, which Mother calls the psychic or the soul space, is more accessible for them. They can remember dreams which speak about beautiful things, and maybe what seem like impossible things, and luminous things.” Expressing what comes from this soul space can be part of the elusive ‘psychic education’ that Mother prescribed for children of the Ashram and Auroville. “The dreams of the children mean the future. And Mother says that it’s very important to nourish the dreams of the future. It’s so important to say: ‘Yes, maybe one day we can fly.’ To nourish what seems impossible, what the rational mind has condemned or reduced. Only then these things can become manifested.”

The World Games have evolved over time, and Aikya now also offers them outdoors, where children or adults are invited to connect with nature and to the heart of things and from there, creation is happening, not necessarily with objects. For Aikya, the important constant is that the World Game is offered in a harmonious and beautiful environment. “It’s about more than aesthetic; it’s about creating a soul space, a place where things are connected. You are connected to everything and things are connected in between. You create this inner and outer connection. The San people say, ‘When you connect to things, you create ropes to God.’ I like this expression. And it doesn’t have to be expensive – it’s about creating an atmosphere that is vibrant, alive. In this time, where life is so artificial, the World Games, can be a beautiful way to remember our natural intelligence.”

Aikya’s book on applying the World Game in Auroville is available in the Auroville Online Store.

The author and the publisher of the web book have also chosen to offer the book to read online without a pay-wall or advertisement. It is available on a Gift-Economy and Pay-What-Feels-Right basis – this is not free. It is an invitation to give what feels right for the value you’ve received from the book and/or the support you want to give us to continue doing our work. It is an experiment in abundance where we trust that when we give, we will also receive.

You can read more about it here.

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