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.”

 

 

 

 

 

Within a Single Cigarette

Shorts


My body was feeling uncomfortably tight after sitting on an uncomfortable couch inside an uncomfortable stagnant heat trapped in my house. I stepped outside to enjoy a cigarette and the cool night breeze.

An added bonus were the clear starry skies and my friendly black house cat who sat perched on the ledge of the stone steps leading up to the house. I sat beside her, lit the embers of tobacco and sucked in the smooth soothing smoke.

I looked down at that black cat who looked out down the street at all of the world that she could see. I followed her gaze and peered into her small world she roams at night and day, wondering at the simplicity of her thought, before arching my neck back to stare upon the stars.

Those stars. Those stars I know to be millions of light years away. Some billions. Those stars I know to be massive incandescent gases, some wobbling by effect of much smaller  planets orbiting them. I stared up at those stars and realized I could look at them from so far away, but did not have to live in a world where I wondered what they were.

I knew.

I could imagine with great accuracy what each of those stars actually looked like, because my species, human kind, dared to look beyond our own small world. We dared to look beyond the perseverance of our domain.

We dared to know more than was necessary just to survive.

But at what cost?

Every culture has looked up at the stars. Every person has looked up at the sun and wondered how its light shines upon our form and we are made in its image. Every parent has observed their children grow into their own, separate from them, internalized into the understanding of eternity at last.

Every culture has formed elaborate stories around their findings of the world; of the universe, of their own understanding for our existence – how we came to be, and where are we going.

The society is the father, bringing support and stability to the people. Structure, the backbone to the mechanisms of life. And the mother, she nurtures that life with constant love. And so we observe the grandest phenomenons of our universe take part in all aspects of life. Certain universal truths discovered independently and in different ways from culture to culture.

These truths become encoded into our stories, recordings of our existence; and thus our continued existence is testimony to our pursuit of immortality…. not as individuals, but as a species, as a creature of the earth, and since we cannot survive without the continued existence of our fellow creatures, then it no longer is just a pursuit of one single species.

No.

We are merely the ambassadors of the collective life of this planet. We have been selected (naturally mind you) to be “awakened” to our own self-realization of life, through the very complex and rare evolutionary and physical leap of certain random yet precise DNA mutations to persuade the advantage for a correct patterning of coding that allows our body’s to do what they do today:

observe beyond our present world and wander within the realms of past and future with ease and fluency.

And each culture that has come and gone and united and ripped apart, left behind memories of their greatest humanitarian accomplishments and saddest tragedies, searching for a sign of why we are the way we are.

Why we have been “chosen”.

And every collective identity of culture has struggled with this special feeling, this strange power. And every culture has constructed laws and morals and taboos to help contain this struggle as we, from one generation to the next, one era to the next, unravel the deep mysterious answer to our question: that in someway, this answer, this source for our existence, will somehow reveal to us our purpose and reason to continue on this path, an answer to why we should persevere through the pain and suffering all around us. That it is happening for a reason, that it is only a phase in our efforts to detangle from the confusion we were born into.

Humanity was born, and we were left on our own to find out why.

And now. Now, all these stories, these social codes upheld in every culture, these ways of living based on the necessity for survival, but also based on the pursuit for immortality – to transcend the primal realm of survival, to find a way out, into the bliss of eternity. That we will cheat death, not as an individual, not as a species, but as a representative of Earth.

A hero is born. The Gods await.

My cigarette ends in one last spindle of smoke rising to the heavens and swept away in the strengthening winds and I travel back down from the stars and see my cat still staring down the long road, caught and suspended in the present moment.

“we’re in this together” I say aloud to her as I reach to pet her warm, bony back.

she sinks into my touch and begins to purr as if to say, “Well then don’t fuck it up.”

 

 

 

The Mythological Pastry

Shorts

The days roll over each other like buttery layers of a croissant, congealed into weeks and months, together like flaking goodness of sweet and fat fused just perfectly imperfect by the blazing oven of creation.

I sat outside the Laundry Express on one of these particularly buttery days trying to use the space between loads as an opportunity for pastry reflection. Three weeks ago I lay curled up on the floorboards of my tent confronting the delicate edge between life and death, not necessarily suicidal per se, but certainly not filled with the will of life either. And now I’m sitting with my legs crossed downtown with damp feet, with one sultry croissant in my hand, wondering how I picked myself up and began to rediscover the source of life; my source for life. The journey to that source certainly is not over, most likely has just begun, but enough time and events and experiences have passed that I can split open that croissant and feel the soft steamy innards against my taste buds and salivate over the digestion of this little package of experience.
My newly acquainted friend slides through the sliding doors of the laundry center and sits down next to me on the firm plastic bench outside. A waft of detergent scent follows her out, mixing and dissipating with the ethanol infused vehicle emissions from a herd of cars passing by us in circles hoping to find an open spot in the parking lot. Laundry Express is one of the most popular destinations in Hilo.

I barely know this woman. I just met her that morning. She just moved into the vacant tent up at our place the night before. We shared coffee and bananas and pineapple for breakfast and somehow with the help of the buzz of caffeine and my nervous energy upon having a new jungle mate, we found ourselves knee deep in one of those conversations that is real hard to find a way out of. Philosophical. Political. Moral. Spiritual. It was messy.

But at the end of it we discovered both of us were in need of washing clothes and my was I relieved to find that out cause I was dead out of clean clothes with a couple more job interviews coming up and no way of getting my heap of possessive attire to town. But she had a car. A Cadillac. I think it was my first time in a Cadillac.

And sitting there on the firm plastic bench surrounded by fumes we also both discovered our passion for writing. She had come to Hawaii originally to hunker down and finally complete a book she’d been writing for 5 years, a collection of over 2,500 pages by now. A bit of a nightmare, if you ask me. I didn’t tell her so, but I did tell her how I so admired her for attempting to write a book, and even such an epic as that. I myself, I said to her, could really only handle writing little blogs, but wished that someday I’d write a book. Something that involves Mars perhaps.

When I asked for the premise of her book she asked if I knew what ‘M Theory’ or “String Theory’ is. I said I had heard of it and she went on to explain the 11 dimensions our universe is made up of and that her book is essentially 11 different stories all intermingled in a structure much like that of this ‘M Theory’.

I got all excited because it reminded me of how classic tales and ancient stories were told in a convoluted ‘more than meets the eye’ type of circular ‘ring theory’ way in which a hidden message could be found in the depths of the structure of how the story itself is told. One of my favorite examples of this is George Lucas’s creation of StarWars which is arguably the greatest modernization of myth to date (you can see what that’s all about here).

And her struggle to complete this story of her’s that seemingly turned into some kind of monstrous monstrosity with its massive accumulation of pages upon pages, weighing down on her pushing her ever so slightly further away from obtaining the ultimate goal of completion reminded me a bit of what my life was feeling like; this life in which I felt this enormity of potential pulsating from every cell and fiber of my being and trying so hard to work on the small things in my life so that I could realize that potential and become this greatness, this grandiose grandness I’ve always felt but could never find… in me.

She said, “I’ve been here for just about a year now and my book has made no progress. And it’s funny, because you know just 8 days ago I was just about ready to give up, and not just on the book, but my life. I couldn’t stop crying. For days, I just cried. And here I am now. I just bought a car and moved to a new place and am picking myself up and I’m okay with where I’m at and in fact I feel like somehow I’ve let go of control a bit and am allowing things to just happen, allowing my days to unfold, just as this book is unfolding. I do my best writing when I don’t really think about what I’m writing. It just comes out, layer upon layer.”

“Like a croissant.”

“What?”

I point to the glazed flakes of what remained of my croissant sprinkled across my lap. “A croissant.”

“Oh. Yea. I guess.”