The Game of It
by Diane Linsley
Have you ever wondered about the Laughing Buddha? What is
there to laugh about in a world full of suffering?
Bill Harris explains the concept of suffering as follows: You suffer
when you don't get what you want. You suffer when you get what
you don't want. And you suffer when you do get what you want
because all things are in time and eventually pass away.
How can anyone be happy under these conditions? I wrote this
article in 2009 when I was was contemplating this paradox and
Playing the Game
I woke up laughing this morning. I've been laughing for two days
now, ever since I discovered the Game of It.
This is a game we all play. Of course, we don't know it's a game, so we take it seriously and cause suffering for ourselves and others. The rule of this game is that IT is something in the future that will make you happy. For a child, IT is a toy. For a young adult, IT is a special relationship. For a gardener, IT is a great garden. And so on. But whatever IT is, it's something you don't already have, so you must keep on searching.
When you are playing this game, you feel a vauge sense of anxiety and incompleteness, as if there is something missing. You think that somewhere in the world, there is someone who has IT, and if you could just figure out what IT is, you could go out and get it, and then you would be happy.
Have you ever had a dream like this? I recently dreamed that I went to the mall, and all the clothes in my favorite store were on sale for only 99 cents. I was so excited! I started sorting through the sale tables, which were piled high with beautiful clothes. But there was just one problem: None of the clothes were my size. So I kept searching and searching until I woke up.
I've had similar dreams throughout my life. It started in childhood with dreams about rooms full of toys. When I became a gardener, the dreams were about plants. I played the Game of It in waking life, too. I played it with such determination that I actually ended up getting most of what I wanted. I went to college on a scholarship. I got married and had children. I got a career and made money. I planted a huge garden with thousands of plants.
Then one day, I woke up and realized that I was still unhappy. For two years, I had been meditating to increase my awareness, so I asked myself why I felt so miserable. The answer was that I was bored. This was a shocking thought. How could I be bored when I had plenty of work to do? But I didn't feel like doing it. I'd lost my desire for everything in life. Over the next few weeks, I sank into a deep depresssion.
The Problem of Impermanence
I'd been depressed before, but this time was different. In the past, I always overcame the depression by finding something new to obsess about - something that was supposed to make me happy. The only problem was that everything I got came to an end or changed in some way. College days end. Husbands are annoying. Cute little babies turn into teenagers. Gardens have to be weeded.
After the initial euphoria of getting or accomplishing the new thing wore off, I found myself stuck with more problems, and the vague sense of anxiety and emptiness came back. Eventually, I discovered that I was suffering from existential angst - the realization that most of what we do in life is a futile attempt to escape from death and impermanence. It is a desperate grasping and clinging - an attempt to halt the continuous march of time.
Admitting this to myself was the hardest thing I ever did. For a while, I thought I was going to die. That's how bad it felt. Then I spent three days listening to spiritual talks. I'd listened to these talks before, but I never really got it. Then something amazing happened. My unconsious mind spoke to me in a dream, and I finally understood.
An Enlightening Dream
It was another dream about the Game of It. This time, the symbols were Christmas presents. In the dream, I was given a time limit of 10 minutes in which to find the perfect present for the gift exhange. The problem, of course, was that there was no perfect present. I went through boxes of stuff, but every item was flawed in some way.
However, there was a difference between this dream and my previous dreams. This time, I didn't feel any compulsion about the game. I went along with it, but I knew it was just a game. When the time ran out, I wasn't surprised or disappointed. I knew the game was rigged. There was no way to win. Then I woke up laughing!
So, here I am, two days later, still laughing because I see through the game. The paradox is that I am IT. There is nothing outside of me that can make me happy. It reminds me of the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy finds out that she had the power to go home all along. She asks Glinda, the good witch, "Why didn't you tell me before?" Dorothy was offended that she had to go through so much suffering along the yellow brick road (the path to enlightenment). Glinda replies, "You wouldn't have believed me. You had to find it out for yourself."
So I won the game! The game is a paradox, and you can only win it when you see through the paradox and accept life for what it is. When you come to the end of the path, you find yourself - the IT that you have been searching for all along.
You discover that you cannot be happy in the past or the future. As Echkhart Tolle says, the past is just a memory trace, and the future is a mind projection. Can you do anything in the past? Can you do anything in the future? No. You can only do something in the present moment. But we live our lives as if the past and future are real. We postpone happiness because we think it can only happen in the future. What a tragic way to live! Now I know why I was so unhappy. My life was a tragedy. I had attained my goals, but I was still unconsciously playing the Game of It.
Living in the Now
So here I am. Now what? Do I drop everything and become a nun? I don't think so. That would just be playing the Game of It with a different goal. There's only one logical thing to do. Keep playing the game! After all, I don't want to be bored. But this time, I am playing it with conscious awareness, and that makes all the difference.
I can still set goals and work toward outcomes that I want. After all, my future situation depends on the choices I make right now. I am currently making a list of new flowers to grow in the spring. But I am no longer suffering under the delusion that anything I do in the future is going to "make me happy." Peace and joy can only be felt in the Now. It happens when I am present in the "eternal now moment."
That doesn't mean that I won't ever feel sad, angry, nervous, lonely, disappointed or bored. Emotions are a normal part of being human. As IT, I am the Experiencer. I experience all sorts of things, including joy and suffering. Consider this poem by Rumi:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
We are spiritual beings having a physical experience. Wouldn't you agree that it is a unique and precious experience? When you forget that you are here for the experience, you take the game seriously and start to believe that there is something out there that you are supposed to get that will make you happy.
Look inside yourself, and discover who you are. This is the most fascinating thing you will ever do. Play the Game of It until you win. Then play some more.
Bill Harris writes about coming to terms with impermanence in his blog post about Great Doubt. This is one of the most insightful things I have ever read. Finally, someone tells the truth. Here's a guided meditation for life changes that can help you shift your perspective. The idea for this meditation came from another dream that taught me to loosen up and enjoy my life more fully :)
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