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Ecopsychology Project

Life is a Game: The Practice of Non-attachment.

Philosophy and Opinion

There are many attitudes on life we can adapt that will ultimately dictate how we go about living our individual lives. These attitudes are essentially what we choose to focus on in the perception of our experiences. This is where philosophy plays a critical role in the task of bringing peace and balance into a society; that which provides order to a people.

The attitude of life is a game is a philosophical metaphor  we have all heard. It has many ways of being interpreted. One of the most common interpretations of this attitude is don’t take life so seriously. Another well-known interpretation is  you’re dealt a hand in life, how are you going to play it? 

Many of these thoughts on life are an attempt to reduce the suffering one experiences through their own interpretation on life. Essentially, life is a game is yet another way of explaining the practice of the non-attachment relationship with life.

So then why is life just but a game? And what does it have to do with non-attachment?

You’re just joining your friends for an evening of board games. It’s a game you all enjoy, and have played often together. You know it well, and have learned your strengths and weaknesses. It’s a bit of strategic game, but like all games chance is involved. You all sit down to play the game. There are some ups and downs throughout the game for you and everyone else. Some players seem to be doing better than others. You get bummed when all your resources are taken, you celebrate when you gain another point. You feel a pang of disappointment when you don’t win, but it soon fades as the game ends and you all transition your evening into the next thing. Those who did well feel a bit more elated than when they began, and those who played poorly feel a certain sadness, but by the end everyone has completely moved on, focused on whatever is happening in the following moments life has to offer.

It’s a cold morning, the coldest of the year, but you’re excited. This Sunday your home football team is playing their rivals in your hometown. And you have tickets. You’re whole day is dedicated to the game. You get to the stadium hours early, all bundled up in your team’s colors. There are thousands of other slowly trickling in, all feeling charged up. The game does not disappoint. It is an especially good game because the teams go back and forth in taking the lead. You’re team doesn’t win, but they played their hearts out, and you love them for that. The day is ending, and its time to get home to your family for a nice warm dinner. The day’s excitement is still buzzing in your head as you drift to sleep, and perhaps it carries into the next day at work. But over time it fades. Just another game.

To practice non-attachment is not to rid your life of desires, hopes, and dreams. It is in no way to live out a life of isolation from reality. Nor is it freedom from pain or some nirvana state. But it is to recognize that everything will eventually find its end, and much of the suffering we endure in life is the inability to move on from our attachment to something that once was but no longer exists.

There was a time when humans lived closer to nature, and our constant understanding of reality was based solely upon the principles of the nature around us. It was a continual change of conditions, a highly temporal world as people’s very survival was contingent on their understandings of these changes and learning how to adapt. Quite naturally, the practice of non-attachment was an essential part of life. If you stayed attached, got too used to one way of living, you would surely die.

Today within the context of what we know as modern society, human populations live far more separated from nature and thus more embedded in a human cultural environment. These modern cultural environments exist in a state that is of great contrast to that of the natural world. Structurally, they are rigid and engineered with a permanence design. This kind of societal infrastructure consequently bleeds into the minds of those who dwell in such environments, i.e. probably anyone reading this blog today, and ultimately as it stains our perception of reality, we then internalize this and project it outwards, as it shapes our very identity, our behavior, and our actions.

It is ironic how through the modernizing of humanity the vast majority of us have come to believe we are closer than ever to living out practical and realistic lives, which in some cases is true, but this truth is almost entirely contained within a human construct. As in, we primarily receive information about the world through a secondary source – from other humans. We entrust the vast majority of our how we “see” the world to other human beings. This practice is just fine, so long as we are aware of this, that most of the information we know about our worl could very well be untrue.

This is the principle of non-attachment. It begins with not attaching to the information you are being fed day in and day out when you wake up, conscious, absorbing and accessing the world surrounding you. It begins with not attaching to your thoughts and ideas, these highly malleable and brief moments that wisps through your mind. It’s the freedom of being skeptical; something that the philosophy of science has made it’s foundation upon. The ending principle of the non-attachment way of life is to release yourself from the attachment to your own life, and sometimes even more importantly, to the lives of others.

This is no easy task. We have been programmed, as I said earlier, to attach ourselves to the physical and non-physical; to the material and the emotional realms of existence. It is intrinsic in the design of our society: that which governs our behavior. But to break free of the chain of attachment living is to free yourself from the draining burden of being stuck in a single state of being: the underlining product of attachment.

On either ends of this spectrum it can look like two contrasting extremes. On one end it is the perpetuating craving of a kind of manic state of being, in which you are constantly seeking stimulants to feed your addiction to achieve an elated state. The other end is that of depression, isolation, grief, and ultimately pain. Much, if not all sickness and disease come from the energetic being getting lodged into one extreme or the other, or, in another extreme, rapidly oscillate between a depressive state and manic: what we have come to know as Manic-depression or in some special cases, Bipolar.

When we begin to see life as a game, it is not to see life as any less real, it is in fact to see life for what it is. It is to take something that we have ironically labeled as “unreal”, a game, and project it onto our reality. When you can agree within yourself, changing the programming of your inner representation of reality, that life is just a game, then you will begin to sense within yourself a lightness. That feeling is the flowing movement of energy that you allow to move freely, for you have begun to remove the blockades, the “attachments” to one belief or another.

But the difficult task here is not creating that change of existence for yourself. That actually comes quite naturally when put into effect. It is the “believing” part that is the daunting task. You have to believe for yourself that content and freedom are states of being that do exist. So how do you unlearn what you have learned? How do you tell yourself to stop believing the ways of attachment, and start believing in the ways of non-attachment? Because I can tell you that right off the bat, you won’t want to believe what I’m saying.

And that’s a good thing, for you should be skeptical of anything and everything that you are told, that is a practice of non-attachment! But you also need to learn how to listen, so you can discern, and make truly free choices based on your ability to listen and discern the information you are receiving from the seemingly endless sources and resources available to you in this modern human world.

But let’s get back to this idea of life as a game, because I believe it is within this metaphor you may find some assurance, something that deep down inside you relate to, that you agreed with way before human society began to take its toll on the domestication of your being.

To return to truth, we must return to the beginnings of life.

Childhood. Play. Games have always existed inherently within us. We learn about ourselves, our world, and our place in it, through exploration and play. We observe the world around us, and our parents or guardians provide a safe-feeling space for us to play out what we observed, as well as provide a safe environment for us to reach outside of our comfort-zone and grow int0 our full potential – just like a well nurtured plant.

It is all too easy to forget the blissful state of a child raised in a safe, loving, environment. But it is not to say that these children are without emotional ups and downs. A child goes through an entanglement of emotions from screaming and kicking and what looks like absolute terror, to laughter and euphoria, all in a single day, sometimes even in a single moment. These children are not sick with manic-depressive behavior, they are merely not attaching to one form of being or the other, they are dancing through life as their operative selves were natural designed to do. Parent’s of these children often perceive this behavior as a kind of wildness, laughing off jokes about their child being a menace or little beast. And these parents I would argue aren’t too far from the truth, when calling their children such names. They are wild, they are beasts. But the understanding and interpretation behind these labels can go one of two ways – if told directly to the children with a negative connotation, as a form of putting down, it will steer the children away from such behavior, domesticating the child into a series of behavioral patterns which leads to attachment, for a children learns from the parents that their wildness, their playfulness, is not the correct way to act, and thus separates play from life. 

This is a from of growing up all too common in our educational system during middle childhood: the developmental ages of around 6 to 11 year olds. It’s not to say that a structured environment where a child learns discipline is not of value, on the contrary, it is about under-valuing the role of play in the early developmental stages of our younglings.

When we grow older and learn that there is a time to play, and a time not to play, we believe we are learning when certain behavior is acceptable, and when it is not, which is true, we are learning this. But how we are applying it to the greater aspects of life is  where I believe there are dire consequences that lead to a kind of collective dependency on attachment relationships, fear of loss/death, and thus an internal suffering.

When a loved one dies, there will be grief involved. When your partner breaks up with you, you will feel grief, and possibly anger. When you lose your job, or you’ve been unemployed for months and you begin to view yourself as unworthy, you are participating in the very self-destructive practice of attachment.

For all of us, we must go through life feeling the hardships and the loss, as well as the ease and joy and gains. These events in life are a natural process for the living. Death and birth, abundance and scarcity exist continuously throughout. When we accept this as natural, unavoidable, we can then open ourselves to the full process of living, and find bliss within every state of being, for bliss is the experience of life coursing through us.

As Master Qui-Gon Jim once said, “Remember, concentrate on the moment. Feel, don’t think. Trust your instincts. Your focus determines your reality.”

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s a good day to be alive.” A Mauna Kea Run.

Running in Circles

I slept in. I woke up slowly, nothing really to look forward to on yet another empty day. I made my ritual coffee, read a few pages in the latest existentialist-fueled book, and probably cleaned my room or something mundane to preoccupy my bored mind. The weather had been awfully rainy, but everyone knew that a blizzard was upon the peaks of the two volcanoes.

My phone dings. A message from Billy.

<Thinking about taking work off tomorrow and running up Mauna Kea. Wanna join?>

Thank god for friends who are just as crazy as me. Boy was I needing an adventure.

Billy shows up at my house the next morning. Although I was just getting over being sick from a detoxifying salt water deprivation tank float, and I was mending a hurt shoulder, I couldn’t resist  the chance to join a friend up the snowy slopes of Mauna Kea. The access road to the summit was closed so no one in their right mind would be able to experience the snowy mountain. But we were out of our right minds, and really into our bodies. We parked right at the closed road, change into our layers, strapped on our running packs, gave a nonchalant nod to the Ranger patrolmen and headed into the bushes.

 We trekked up and over and a cinder cone, where we could clearly see the trail on the other side to join up with. We slid down and whooped as we connected with the trail, like passing through a gateway. Our adventure had begun.

We took off at a brisk pace listening to the crunch under our feet. It was an easy ascent at first and we spent the time chatting excitedly, keeping in check our breathing and heart rate. 

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The scenery was dramatic and ever-changing, as plumes of clouds seemed to appear from all sides of the island, converging at Mauna Kea. At one moment it was clear with grand views of the saddle, Mauna Loa and Hualalai, then suddenly it was covered up into a thickness the eye could not penetrate.

It was relatively warm until one of these voids of fog pressed down upon us, then a coldness would set in chilling the bone. I was constantly taking on and off my insulating hoody. Billy just kept rocking his buff and shades whether the sun beamed through or not.

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Billy kept me up to date on our elevation gain, and I was always surprised to hear him call out the next 1,000′ milestone. We started at 9,000′ and it seemed like in no time we had already made it to 12,000′. But this was also where we were met with snow, something we were looking forward to, yet I had never really imagined the challenges that would come with the frozen terrain.

You don’t really think about snow all that much when living in Hawai’i. It doesn’t really come with the the whole tropical experience and although I’ve been in the mountains plenty of times having lived in the Rockies and Cascade ranges, I didn’t quite know how to prepare for snow on top of this volcano.

We took our first rest at first sight of snow. I grabbed a handful and pressed it into a ball. Billy took out his new camera and played with the macro settings. The scenery had cleared up again and we took it in before setting off back up the mountain.

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Our trail to the summit

The climbing was beginning to get difficult, as the air thinned. My light body-weight made it easier for me to lift one leg in front of the other, but Billy had a good solid and steady pace that helped me slow down and not get too ahead of myself. We both knew in the back of our heads we’d pay for it later at the top.

We made a good team as the hours passed. The snow was getting thicker and our minds slowed to the pace of our movements and our minds blended with the rocky cinder snowy environment. Our conversations ended. The fog rolled in again and the silence was deadening. This was to be the last time we could see out beyond the slopes of the mountain. Our world shrank to just a few feet in all directions.

I lead most of the way and had to glance up from time to time to keep an eye on the next trail marker which came either as a steel post pounded in the ground, or a cairn of rocks, called and Ahu. We had been walking for a while now in the snow, and my feet were beginning to get cold. It was also much more tiring to trek across snow then the gravely trail. As the conditions thickened, the trail was lost entirely and we relied purely on the markers, walking roughly straight lines from one to the next. We slipped and slid between footings as we never knew if our next step would be upon the sturdy ground or a jagged rock hiding underneath the blanket of snow.

Time kept on passing, and we fell into the trance of our own rhythmic breathing. Our minds were fully present and focused, commanding our bodies up and up and up, until we reached a sort of fork in the road, with no clear sense of which way to go. We saw some ahu to the left through the thick fog and decided to head that way. It took us along the lip of an old cinder cone where the wind picked up from down below, cascading up and over the lip. We were pummeled with icy rain and it was just around that time we both started to get worried.

We kept our cool, I started shivering, and just below us as the wind turned, the sacred lake Waiau appeared as if out of thin air. We took it as a beacon of hope, that we must be close to our meet-up point with the road that would take us the rest of the way to the Summit. Our only problem was we didn’t know where the road was supposed to be in relationship to the lake.

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Lake Waiau revealing itself through the fog.

So we continued to wander through the thick freezing fog, eventually turning back to our fork in the trail. Billy kept pointing to a large pu’u to our right saying, “I think that’s the summit, we must be behind it.” I gazed up at it, craning my neck, the top veiled by the fog. I really didn’t feel like scrambling up that Pu’u. I was starting to feel very cold, and the drunken feeling of the altitude was sloshing in my head.

We kept marching in a directionless direction when the winds shifted and Billy pointed again shouting, “there! the road!” Sure enough, a few hundred meters ahead lay the road, this whole time.

Climbing out of the now deep snow, we slapped the bottom of our shoes on the pavement, glad to be back on flat, relatively dry terrain. We headed up the road immediately, keeping our core body temperature warm, and renewed with energy from finding the road. But as we climbed only another half mile and nearing the last switchback bank, the winds were howling, and Billy, being the sensible one, stopped running and checked in with himself. I must of been too far gone with the altitude because I was feeling steadfast and determined to get to the top. Billy gave me the look, and it was enough for me to understand it was probably best not to push it. We were vulnerable, with minimal winter layers, and sure enough I realized my hands and feet were already completely numb.

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White Out

So, with that, we turned around, but this time continued on the road, a seven mile decent. I kept having the strongest urge to pee, but every time I stopped and tried, I was unsuccessful. The wind died down and with every mile the air temperature warmed. Our feet and hands slowly thawed out, which we were very grateful for, but at the same rate, my head and stomach were feeling worse. My thoughts became extremely foggy, and it took all my concentration to process what Billy was saying to me from time to time. We both laughed at the pounding of our heads with each stride. It was quite amazing how positive I was feeling while simultceanusouly feeling physically wretched. With two miles to go I couldn’t stand to run and had to walk. I could no longer focus my gaze, my bladder was screaming at me, and my head was pounding like Animal on the drums from the Muppets.

Thankfully, with a mile to go, I was able to finally pee, now that we were closer to 10,000′ elevation. And the last half mile, we started running again, I think mostly because I just wanted to get back to the car so I could collapse.

We ran past the guard who just gave us a nod, and headed straight to Billy’s car. Without saying much, I grabbed my dry clothes, headed to the bathroom at the visitor’s center where I met a line of tourists. At this point my conditions were worsening rapidly. Definitely phase one altitude sickness. As terrible as altitude sickness feels, like being drunk and hungover all at once, I was also reveling in the grandness of our time up on Mauna Kea.

After changing, Billy said, “lets just get out of here”. I  nodded my head and mumbled something like, “lower elevation please”. And with that we sped down the road, only stopping once a few hundred feet after departing for me to puke. Billy rolled down the window, stuck his head out and shouted, “nice one!” Always positive that Billy.

I put my seat all the way back, closed my eyes and passed out, only waking up as we rolled into Hilo. Feeling much better, but completely spent, I grabbed all my belongings, said farewell to billy, and crawled up to my house where I immediately started a bath.

One long hot soak and a hour nap later, I felt completely revived, and even cooked up a hot curry and invited my friend over to enjoy a nice dinner.

I am constantly amazed at what the body can endure, and just how quickly it can recover, if you allow it too. Another great adventure. Another test of my abilities, and another humbling experience on Mauna Kea.