There’s an enticing idea in the game of Zen and spirituality and philosophy and whatnot, which goes something like this: there is no need to suffer in order to attain ‘enlightenment’. But most people have been indoctrinated that there’s no gain without pain, so they’re under the impression that they need to go through some sort of ordeal, some sort of quest before they find the Holy Grail within themselves– that there is no secret ingredient, that we are all God, intertwined with all things, and that there is a universe of ecstasy to be had right here right now in the present moment, if we would only awaken to it. But apparently we don’t like that idea because it’s too simple, it’s too easy, it sounds almost silly or foolish. And so we embark on the quests that we set for ourselves, or beg some teacher to give to us. And they smile, perplexed and befuddled, wondering why God would like to play this silly game, running away from himself, hiding from herself, seeking God’s own approval. But apparently that’s what he wants, so that’s what he gets. We are infinite, and we want to play this game of “poor old me”.
I’m not sure how I feel about this idea. I think there’s an element of truth to it. I do believe that it’s theoretically possible to experience an awakening in the given moment, to realize, “My goodness, I’ve been fooling myself this whole time, what a tediously boring game.” And that it’s then equally possible to almost immediately– or at least, very quickly– slip into another game with a similar goal and pretext. To play hide and seek with ourselves, because maybe it’s boring to be fully present in the eternal now.
As for me, I’m endlessly attached to this story of myself, this story of the person called me, with my history and my family and my lineage and my DNA and the socioeconomic conditions that I was raised in and the beliefs that I was exposed to and the conditioning I’ve had over the decades. “This is who I am you see! These were my starting conditions! This is how I’m broken! These are my scars, these are my weaknesses, these are my failings!” And that story is familiar and comforting and something to return to. It’s easier to weep and moan than it is to go “Well alright then, let’s get up and see what we can do about all of this.”
Well alright then, let’s get up and see what we can do about all of this.
The cool thing about some video games is that they put you right in the middle of a story. I’m reminded of Uncharted 2 where you begin wounded in a train that’s about to fall off a cliff. And as a player, you find yourself thinking, oh okay, what do I do next? What can I do now? And it’s interesting that that thought doesn’t come so easily in everyday life. I’m starting to think that maybe everyday life is just really badly designed. Everything around is really badly designed, and the tricky thing about badly designed environments is that they have a way of convincing you that it’s your fault that you aren’t good at navigating them. That you’re somehow imperfect, incomplete, insufficient.
These are the dominant feelings, are they not? Every day we wake up and we are tired and lonely and scared. Well, what then? The athlete has to play hurt, there is no other way around it. Life is struggle; an ordeal advertised as an adventure.
Phillip K Dick said that reality is whatever doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it. When you stop believing that life is an adventure, it can go away. When you stop believing that life is an ordeal… it seems like it’s still an ordeal… isn’t it? Or is it that the belief is so deep-rooted that it’s just particularly hard to shake?
Suppose we try that out, then. Suppose we try to shake the belief that life is an ordeal. It’s not. It’s not work, it’s play. Every boring task is an opportunity to have fun. I was at remedial training a couple of days ago– a thing that Singaporean men have to do if they don’t complete their individual physical proficiency test within the allocated time. And part of that training was to flip a little plastic log over and over again around a 400m track, twice. You do it in a group, which makes it a little less monotonous, but it’s still incredibly monotonous and Sisyphian. What was funny was how halfway through, some of us started fooling around– tossing the log forward, dragging it forward before flipping it, and so on. And it was funny, and we laughed, and in that moment we managed to create a little humor and amusement out of something that could be construed as a theft of our time.
My last word vomit was a little bleak– I wrote about how I’m just a bunch of electrical impulses in a body of flesh and bones, a tube to put resources into to convert into energy, living in a box, going through a system of tubes to get to another box, doing some work to collect some currency to purchase the resources necessary to keep the whole thing going on, seemingly indefinitely (with an unknown date of death). Life itself is Sisyphian, which is why Camus said that one must imagine Sisyphus happy. Else there’s no point, else we might as well just off ourselves off now. It’s only rational to proceed if we believe that the benefits outweigh the costs. And there are certainly costs. So we have to find benefits. In the darkness we must supply our own light. We must find joy and humor in our existence. We won’t stop existing just because we fail to do that, but if we fail to do that we have to wonder what we’re existing for.