There was something I wanted to write about and I was going to use food as a metaphor, but I believe sports will work better for what I want to say. The reason I add this preamble is that I want to make a distinction between my point here and the somewhat similar point that James Carse makes in his brilliantly insightful book, Finite and Infinite Games. So as much as I’m a huge fan of the book, any resemblance here is merely due to the fact that I also want to use the concept of playing as the basis for my metaphors.
So for the sake of this point, imagine that your life is a sport. When you’re young you just learn to keep your balance and get your body doing what you want it to. Then you develop a sense of basically how this sport works, before you go through childhood and through puberty where you learn all of the rules. By the time you’re a teen you’re pretty much only focused on scoring. And in various ways, that’s what you’ll do for the rest of your life unless you become conscious.
Before you’re conscious you’ll complain about other people, as though them being themselves and living their life is done as an affront to you personally. But think about this philosophically. You’ve got this great opportunity to play, but it’s not like you set up your own game. You need all of these other players, including your opponents. So you can stop wasting energy complaining about the inevitable, and instead you can invest that energy in being grateful that the game even exists, let alone that you have been invited—through no conscious choice of your own—to enter the field of play. So the very fact that you even get to play means you’re fortunate. You have opportunity. The question is, what kind of game are you going to choose to play?
First off, to be physically fit is a key factor for long term success in any sport. So you have eat well, sleep well, and exercise. And don’t do those things because they’re good for you. Do them because they actually feel good. It’s just we’re not usually focusing on how good it feels. We’re too busy telling ourselves a story about how it’s terrible that we have to exercise. The best runners in the world—the Tarahumara Indians—believe you should run at the a speed you can converse in. So instead of a whining internal monologue, go run with a friend and turn your talk sessions into walk/run sessions where you talk about something other than how tired you feel.
Once you can contribute to your own success and the success of those around you, you’re ready to be a part of a team. Because like it or not, life is a team sport. You’ll have players who’ve played in your position and so they can relate better to the challenges you face. And there will be other players who will see the play very differently. If you’re a conservative, concerned defenceman, you’re watching for threats, whereas an optimistic, enthusiastic and aggressive forward is watching for opportunity. So what each of you will think is the right thing to do will occasionally differ due to that perspective difference. So you have to able to appreciate that fact so you can maintain good, helpful relations with your teammates.
Once you’ve committed to being dedicated to putting the team’s goals ahead of your own, you are philosophically ready to play. Presuming you’re also physically ready, the next question is what style of play will you employ in life? We can play by the rules or we can cheat. And how far will we go in cheating if we do cheat? And does this line in the sand move if we’re losing in an important game, or is it absolute? And what if it’s our own player’s infraction? Are we as anal about following the rules then? These decisions define the character of our play. When people think about our game overall, this is what they will generally use as your identity.
The reason your character is important is because next we’ll be discussing how you face challenges. Remember, a sport is a competition. So you will have egos as opponents who will actually put effort into trying to screw you up. You can scream at them, appeal to the referee, or any other thing you want, but without the opponents there is no game. So you can do like a Buddhist and accept that, or you can spend your life complaining about the fact that opponents are inextricably tied to the concept of playing a team sport. Without another team your team is just a bunch of people milling around in similar clothes. So your character is made up of how you play. And you maximize your play when you cease to argue with the fact that you cannot have a game without opponents.
As I noted at the beginning, it’s easy to get caught up trying to get laid or get rich or get married or get pregnant or get whatever. But you don’t win at the game of life by scoring more than the other team. You don’t win by having more points. Because the goals are non-transferable. It’s not like when you die some dude with a clipboard greets you and says, “Ah, I see you earned a lot of money in your life. Well because of all of your effort in that lifetime, we’re going to let you be a well fed house cat this time.” No, your status and your accomplishments and your money don’t mean anything once time’s up. So eventually you realize that, and then your game shifts into pro mode.
You’re playing seriously when you realize that this game can end at any time. You’re playing seriously when you realize you can’t take your prizes with you. You’re playing seriously when you realize that you can enjoy trying to win the game, but there’s no way to actually win at life. There is only the playing itself. And so goes the paradox, that the most serious players are those that play for fun.
Now, even if you’re at work, go out and make it play.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.