Analogy 2

In my last post I compared life to a funfair ride and several people mentioned how that analogy worked for them.

Screenshot of ERD - Estrada Real Digital, A So...

So here’s another…

Imagine our souls/higher selves/eternal beings or whatever you wish to call them as a group of eager adventure gamers.  Maybe it takes a bit of imagination, but bear with me.

These eternal aspects of us are addicted to a game called Life.

It’s not surprising.  The game is a totally immersive experience.  To play it, you put on a skin suit and become a character in a drama that you have helped to script.  That doesn’t mean you know what’s going to happen.  As in most action games, you get to choose your character.  You also select fellow players who will act out the parts of the heroes and villains in your game.  You sort out with them before you start the roles each will play, so that you can all gain the most experience from the game. (And yes, that does mean they are not terrible, bad, unkind people, but eternal souls made of light who have willingly agreed to take on these roles – act out a part – to enable you to have adventure, challenge and gain new experience.)
Your avatar starts off as a very young and inexperienced character, because part of the skin suit’s purpose is to give you temporary amnesia: You forget – or almost forget – that you have a life beyond the game.  You forget all the other versions of the game you’ve played as other characters.  As you work through the levels you gain experience and, if you’re playing mindfully, you start to remember that you’re more than just this game character and find yourself able to draw on advice and inspiration from the ‘real’ you.
Of course (as you’ll have noticed) it’s a hugely complex game and I’ve only scratched the surface of it here.  There’s a far more detailed Player’s Guide available in Kindle or paperback editions, which I try not to plug too often, but maybe once in a while is OK, especially at a time of year when many people are buying gifts or looking for ways to spend vouchers 🙂 .

The Amazon Kindle 2

So, here come the plugs:

The link to my US Amazon page, which has details of how to buy either version, plus the cheaper-than-chips Kindle taster is here.
If you’d like to see the UK version, which also has all my reviews and star ratings (Amazon won’t put UK reviews on their US site, and no one in the US has reviewed it yet) go to this link.
If you’re an Amazon hater and would prefer to buy direct from my publisher, head over here.  Oh, and if you follow this link and leave your name and email, you could even win a free copy of the paperback: http://feedaread.com/p/3493/
Available in paperback and Kindle editions

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

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The many-headed monster at the end of the level

Bad dream

Somewhere recently – can’t remember where, exactly – I read something to the effect that if your deepest dream comes true, that can turn into your greatest nightmare, because suddenly there’s no hiding place.

How very true that is.

There’s nothing quite as scary as getting exactly what you asked for!

Why is that?  Maybe because there’s no one and nothing to resent or blame, no excuses, no ‘if onlys’ to hide behind.  There is just this exciting but terrifying knowledge that NOTHING is holding you back, and you’re free to fulfil your dreams.

That’s about where I was for the past week or so. Having got past the euphoria of realising that my dream of owning an ancient English cottage with a garden in a beautiful town was coming true,  I descended deep in the mire of conveyancers and planning authorities and environmental searches.

That’s not to say it won’t all turn out fine in the end.  It will.  I know that.  It’s just that right at that moment, everything felt stressful and difficult and frightening and there were nasty little snags and problems sticking up all over the place.

The knee-jerk reaction was to hunt around for someone to blame, but I knew I could do better than that.

The next (slightly more mature?) step was to ask why all these problems were being dropped in my path.

Once I asked the right question, the answer appeared instantly.  In fact, I’d written it myself in my book LIFE: A PLAYER’S GUIDE.  I remembered the analogy I’d used of life being like a role-player video game, set up quite intentionally by our higher – or god – self in order to gain experience (EXP as it’s known to gamers).  Here’s the extract I was drawn to:

Be on the lookout for times when the odds seem truly stacked against you.

I’m reminded of a computer game my sons used to play some years ago.  They would move through each level, ducking and diving and successfully zapping all the little problems that came their way.  Suddenly, they’d turn a corner and some huge, many-headed monster would be blocking the path in front of them, breathing fire and attacking on all fronts.  None of their weapons or manoeuvres seemed to have any effect on this creature.  Laser rays bounced off it; firebombs fizzled and died.  It seemed quite invincible.  It always amazed me that they kept going, doggedly using the same – apparently useless – arsenal of weapons and refusing to give up.  Their energy levels were fading and all seemed lost until, quite suddenly, they won through.  The creature was finally weakened and vanished in a great explosion and they moved on to the next level.

Rejuvenate

In the Virtual Game, the ‘end-of-level monster’ is often many-headed.  Friends you’ve always relied on seem unaccountably inaccessible; aspects of life that have served you well suddenly turn and challenge you; finances that have seemed stable and predictable rear up and attack.  You find yourself floundering out of your depth and with no apparent support.  Just as you begin throwing up your hands in horror and wondering what life is going to hurl at you next, stop and remember what you’ve read here.  Recognise this for what it is.  You/God have brought yourself to a huge end-of-level crisis to test whether you have the skills and resolve to get through it.  You do.  You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t already gained all the necessary tools and EXP to defeat the monster.  All you have to do is to keep on working through each problem – slicing off each of the creature’s heads – in the certain knowledge that if you keep at it, you will win through to the next level.

So here I stand, buoyed up by the advice I wrote then – so that I could rediscover it now – and ready to deal with each new problem as it arises.

Sooner or later, the many heads will all be gone and the final few fears will have receded.  Yes, it’s frightening to get exactly what you’d dreamed of, but it’s also profoundly invigorating.

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

If you could do with a bit of help with the Game called Life we are all playing, take a look through LIFE: A PLAYER’S GUIDE by Jan Stone, if you haven’t already.  It’s available from Amazon throughout the world or to order from your local bookshop.

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No Such Thing as Coincidence

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It’s such a glib phrase: There’s no such thing as a coincidence.   Usually spoken with a knowing smile, as if something deep and meaningful lies just behind the words.

What’s more, it seems to fly in the face of our everyday experience.  Odd, coincidental events appear to crop up all over the place and are usually shrugged off with a grin or a casual, “Oh, that’s weird…” or “Wow, I was only just thinking about…”.

What if there really IS no such thing as a coincidence, though.  Where does that leave us?

I, Damace, took this picture of my cat at dusk.

For me, the answer is that it leaves us with synchronicity.  We notice the weirdness of the situation, and that puts us on alert that something significant is happening.  It’s like that bit in The Matrix when Neo notices the black cat walk past the doorway twice.  For him, it’s just something a bit strange, but for those who are more experienced at the way the program runs, it is a highly significant clue that helps them to deal with what is coming up.

Fortunately, we’re not about to run into Agent Smith/s when we spot some synchronous event.  However it should put us on alert.  Life is reminding us that nothing happens by chance, and something is going on that we need to take notice of.

There’s more detail on this in the following extract from my book  Life: A Player’s Guide, in which life is considered as if it’s a highly sophisticated virtual video game:

Have you ever noticed that the characters in novels you have read, or movies you have seen, tend not to have random meetings and encounters?  In almost every story or narrative film, only the relevant encounters are included.  Any meeting or conversation the main character has is important in some way to the storyline.  Of course, this is particularly true in a thriller or a whodunit, but when you consider it, it tends to be true of most types of fiction. An apparently insignificant encounter might change the way the main character thinks, give them a clue about how to solve a problem or even change their lives.  We just know that the seemingly trivial conversation with the waitress in the diner will make a big difference somewhere along the line. That, of course, is why the author or scriptwriter included them.

In a computer game, there’s a slightly different convention.  Because you – not the scriptwriter – are making the choices about who you interact with, the game designers have to find a way of nudging you towards significant meetings.  Consequently, your avatar will meet other characters from time to time who will be identified in some way – usually by having special lights or symbols bobbing about over their heads.  This, as all RPG players will know, is a sign that they have some useful part to play in your story. Perhaps they have some information to give you or they can answer a question that will help you on your way.  Maybe by following them, you will find a hidden passage, or a hitherto unsuspected part of the level, and this can gain you valuable riches, points or experience.

So how does this relate to The Virtual Game?  Well in the widest sense, of course, every encounter is valuable, in that it provides experience; from the grumpy bus driver or the cheerful checkout assistant onwards.  However, there are certain individuals, just like those characters in the computer game with shiny things above their heads, who will have particular messages or significant experiences for us – people we would be wise to stop and talk to.

Since it’s a great deal more sophisticated than the games you play on your console, in The Virtual Game, these key characters don’t generally come with a helpful coloured blob hovering above their heads to enable us to recognise them.  Once you have read this section, though, you could begin to get seriously good at identifying them.

What a coincidence?

Look out for synchronicities.  At first sight, these may seem to be no more than strange or lucky chances, but trust me – they are far more than that.  We might not immediately spot the link but they are definitely meaningful; and they are important – always.  You have designed and planned The Game meticulously and, just as in the carefully scripted murder mystery story, there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

Here’s the way it could work:

You get chatting to someone, or are introduced by a mutual friend, and discover an ever-increasing set of things you have in common.  You find that you were born two streets away in the same town, that your mothers have the same birthday, that you both have a Springer spaniel and two goldfish – that type of thing.  These synchronicities act like a sort of mental sticky plaster and are strong enough to hold the two of you together; to keep you talking and interacting until you both get the information or experience that you need.  This can last from ten minutes to the rest of your lives, depending on how much experience there is to be had, or what form it takes.

There has been a huge amount of synchronicities turning up in my life over the last week or so.  I’m fascinated to see where they’ll lead me.

The Curse of the Question Mark

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Danny, despite his speech difficulties, has an interesting turn of phrase.  He’s just 10, and yesterday we had our first tutoring session of the new school year together.

“So what’s been going on in your life over the summer?” I asked.
“Dood stuff!” he announced, proudly. “I had my birthday, and I dot a digital damera and I’m detting a laptop soon!”

He must have noticed my raised eyebrows. I know his family’s financial situation isn’t great.
“The laptop’s from a jarity,” he explained. “I don’t know what ‘slexia is, but my mum wrote to them and they’re divving me a laptop so I can do my homewort.”
“Well that’s brilliant, Danny,” I enthused.  “Aren’t you a lucky boy!”

Lucky isn’t really the word that springs to mind when you first come across Danny.  The youngest in his year group, he does daily battle with all aspects of academic study at school.  Words appear to fly around the page and refuse to lodge in his memory; numbers resist all attempts to become bonded or otherwise related to one another.  Several speech sounds remain stubbornly inaccessible to him, despite years of therapy, and his tendency to writhe, fiddle, daydream or mumble his way through the interminable school day must have driven many a teacher to distraction.

Despite all this, Danny remains a cheerful child with a gift for optimism and humour.  He’s one of the many special young people who have so much to share with those of us who are willing to embrace different ways of learning and being.

“Do you really not know what dyslexia is, Danny?” I asked, despite my personal aversion to the term.  “Would you like me to explain it to you?”

‘Explain’ is one of his trigger words.  I should have remembered.

“No,” he replied hastily, “I thint I remember now.  It means I darn’t learn properly.”

Well that set off one of my own triggers!  I drew a quick cartoon brain.  I drew two dots and a straight line representing stimulus and response between two points in a neurotypical brain.  Then I drew the response to a stimulus in his brain – all manner of weird and wonderful connections firing off simultaneously and the resulting wavy synaptic line that connected them all in new and exciting ways.

“You learn DIFFERENTLY Dan,” I told him, as I traced the routes on my drawing with my finger, “and if the teacher wants a quick answer, that’s difficult for you.  On the other hand, if she wants an original answer – one that no one else would think of – then yours is the perfect brain for that.”

He looked slightly hopeful but sceptical.

Mario Kart DS Bundle

“What are you like at computer games?” I asked.
“Brilliant!” he grinned. “I’m the best in the family. I tan beat everyone.”

Several minutes of sound-effect laden role play followed as he demonstrated his prowess at Mario with an imaginary DS.

“I’m not surprised,” I told him.  “Your brain is perfect for that.  It can keep track of all the different things going on at once – the number of lives and energy levels, the route you need to take, dangerous enemies and obstacles…  All those bits of your brain that work at once can handle that far better than most ordinary people.”

Danny seemed happy with that, so we turned to some of the work I’d prepared – the gentlest of introductions to algebra, such as

9 + ? = 13   or  15 – ? = 10

Danny stared balefully at the page for a moment, then rose in his seat, peering down at it with great disdain.

“Dwestion Marts!” he announced with gravitas.  “My arch enemy!  I hate you, Dwestion Marts!  You never reveal what you are hiding!  Durse you to hell forever!”

And that’s the way it goes – a typical weekly session with Danny, the boy who can’t perhaps answer the question, but has penetrated to the heart of its intrinsic essence with a clarity the rest of us can only gasp at.

How utterly dull our world would be without the likes of Danny.

Connecting to NPCs

“Why do some of those people have floaty lights bobbing about over their heads?” I asked my son, as I watched him playing a computer game.

“They’re called NPCs – Non-Player Characters,” he replied patiently, still managing to move his own avatar swiftly through the crowded medieval street.  “They’re there to help you.  Sometimes if you stop and speak to them they give you useful information, like suggesting where you could go to collect more EXP, or sometimes if you follow them, they lead you to a part of the game you haven’t visited.”

I noticed that he wasn’t stopping to speak to any of them, but I dare say he’d fully explored this part of the game several times before.

In our game – Life – those special characters don’t often  have shiny things dancing over their heads.  They have another way of getting our attention.  Usually they do it by getting in our face and making it hard for us to ignore them.  Since we haven’t (or not as far as we remember) played this part of the game before, it would make sense to stop and listen to them, wouldn’t it?  Maybe they’re going to show or teach us something we need to know…

I had an encounter with one yesterday.

I was in Bristol – a busy, bustling city in South West England.  I’d been Christmas shopping and the weather was not great.  In fact, by the time I reached the steep narrow alley that leads from the shopping centre up to the bus station, I was tired, windswept, wet and – above all – cold.  My one thought was that I wanted to get into the shelter as soon as possible and on to my warm, comfortable no. 376 bus.  I’d been skillfully weaving my way through the hordes of pedestrians, with an impressive turn of speed, when I came up against my NPC.

In front of me was this small, wide figure, moving ridiculously slowly.  She had two large bags of shopping in each hand and these were held out to the sides, so that it was almost impossible to get past.  Seeing a small gap, I moved to the left.  With immaculate timing but never a backward glance she veered in that direction, blocking my path.  I headed right.  Instantly she tottered over that way and again I was blocked.  I felt my frustration and anger starting to build.  As I made a final sharp twist to the left, she quite suddenly stopped right in front of me and put the bags down, bending over and gasping for breath.  At this point, she looked back and noticed me.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, dear.  I must be slowing you up.”  She hauled the bags to the side and gestured to me to pass.

Ah, but you see I’d done it now – I’d stopped and listened to her.  And yes, she did have something valuable to teach me.  This encounter moved me beyond my narrow desire to reach my next goal, and expanded my perception a bit.  Now I was seeing this fellow shopper – quite a bit older than me, also cold, wet and tired and struggling to carry four huge and heavy bags up this steep path.

I relaxed, smiled and offered to take a couple of her bags up to the bus station for her.  We carried on – at her pace – chatting as we went.  By the time we’d reached the top of the alley, I knew all about her six grandchildren and the Manchester United pyjamas she’d wanted for one of them and been unable to find anywhere.

As I returned her bags and we parted, I noticed that although the weather remained the same, I no longer felt cold.