Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Building New Structures

Motion traces a path in the surroundings. The excessive focus on the identity of things obscures the importance of how we move among them. Over time our movements create an image of the intertwined pattern that is the clearest expression of the meaning of our lives. Alfred Adler first coined the word “lifestyle” over a hundred years ago to place the emphasis on the movement, the style of life and way of being in the world that builds our satisfaction or unhappiness. When I see someone clinging to their resentments, it’s not hard to see how that way of looking at things creates problems. So many have become confused by the messages of consumer culture that try to identify meaning with what you have accumulated. In the depths of the heart we know that we are meaningful through our actions in the world, the way we behave, how we affect others, the functions we perform and how that changes according to context. It is through understanding our own life-in-action that we understand others. Though the specifics are not the same, the structure of the pattern is what tells us they’re headed for trouble or triumph. We’ve seen it before. This is the basis for our attunement with the world.
So much of what we experience has parallels in other areas. We’re tuned to primary patterns that we can recognize in other areas to help us decode the unfamiliar. The gestalt psychologists of the 1940’s and 50’s used the word “isomorphism” for this structural similarity. That we can apply knowledge from one area to patterns in another is the essence of reasoning. The pattern shows us where to look for the next step or what might be missing from the whole.
The Internet is isomorphic to the brain. Every site (neuron) is the hub of many other connections. The web abounds in terminology of location. We create sites and navigate within them. These similarities may allow us to better envision the idea of consciousness as continuous, shared, something expressed through each of us. Since the structures are similar we can look at the evolution of knowledge on every subject like a wiki in the collective mind, where all views and life experience inform the development of the whole. The principle of life is growth. That’s why contributing to the store of knowledge gives us pleasure.
I would love to see a game experience that made me fell connected to the universe in exhilarating and insightful ways. Immersion in a game of pure beauty might be found to be far more refreshing than day-time naps, now being explored in companies hoping to decrease mistakes due to long days.
A game format could be used to develop our self-awareness of deeper level patterns in our psyche. Creating a range of places to explore we could learn about our inner world by seeing the choices we make about where to go. Imagining entirely new places to be may allow us to develop capabilities not even dreamed. The acts of identifying and classifying chop our true continuity into parts. Though it’s a way of thinking that has its usefulness, it has wrecked our connection to all the wonderful different kinds of people who share our patterns as living human beings. We need to remember that our categories are tools and are not the reality. Eating and sleeping, togetherness and loss, being born and dying, are the patterns of being we share, isomorphic to each other, a reality deeper than the ideas, labels, theories and ideologies we mistakenly let divide us.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Holding to Center

Playing the Day

Living my day like a game has been fun, mindful and illuminating. I thought that after three weeks of giving myself points for behaviors I wanted to encourage and subtracting points for negatives, I’d have internalized the new habits and could leave the game behind. Not so. Bad habits and old thought patterns crept back, and without my imaginary penalties I had no weapons to fight them. This seemingly minor incentive was still a structure for accountability. Calling it a game pulled together all the different parts of my day so they affected each other. Working hard on my drawing all day, something that had always been among my ultimate values, wasn’t enough to get a high score for the day. I needed to include other things, other people, which I knew were important to encourage when I first set up my scoring system. I couldn’t let myself lose ground with nervous habits. I would have to think twice before expressing irritation. After paying such close attention to every little thing, by evening I would feel excited about the day, vitalized. In fact it occurred to me that what I’m measuring and stimulating in the act of accounting is the flow of life force through me. I often think of myself and others like tubes through which the life force flows. We are happy to the degree that the flow of energy is unimpeded. Life problems clog our ability to let it flow so my scores are aimed at keeping the passage clear. Dwelling on the sad past is a big minus. In the game, I don’t do it. Turning a negative into a positive is a big plus, and the times I’ve managed to pull it off it have been very satisfying. Taking something that upset me and finding a way to twist it into something else has been gratifying on many levels.
When I started keeping score again, I had a stretch of really low scores and wondered why. As I thought back over the day I saw I’d left out all of the small nice acts and even one big one that I knew should be rewarded when I set up my system. I took that part of what I do for granted. The game made me notice them again. The happiness of games is the fuller awareness, the full involvement in what we’re doing. The fact that our pleasure chemicals are stimulated for full involvement is because it’s the way we’re meant to be. We pay closer attention because it feels good. And any game offers that happy feedback loop. Playing the day pulls everything onto the screen, and time is experienced in its full richness.
My urge to evangelize is strong. Everyone could create their own system of points and penalties that push them to be who they want to be. Brains are malleable, our habits ours to program. In my game, there is always a way to score. When I’m not producing new ideas, I can refine labor-intensive parts of my drawing, or water plants, or write something in my “Book of Gratitude”. Creating a personal scoring system is a way of looking directly at what matters and equalizing the acts that make us more human with the acts that society recognizes as useful. Balancing what we want from our lives through our own values is like writing the score for the music of our day. To make your day into a game is to take a new stance in relation to it, to add another level, build in an overview.
Jane McGonigal is right. “Reality isn’t engineered to maximize our potential “. In “Reality is Broken” she cites a University of Rochester study tracking graduates. They found that “American dream” goals, which focused on money, sex appeal and fame, didn’t contribute to happiness at all. The graduates that had been working hard at self-development were happiest in whatever they ended up doing. Emerson wrote, “Our chief want in life is someone who will make us do what we can.” Playing a game makes you better at it. Playing your day may well do the same thing. To create a structure for our own coherence unified by our own values is to take back the power over our lives.