Danny Reading

 

Visual-dyslexia

Not Danny – but somewhat similar… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may remember Danny – he of the decimals and so forth.  He’s an after-school tutoring student of mine.  Coming up for twelve, still with speech difficulties and, shall we say, selective about what he gives his attention to…

I no longer teach him maths.  Reading has become the priority for our one hour a week together, since – he tells me – he is a ‘7.2’.  I’ve no idea what a 7.2 is, although I have a nasty suspicion that it could be his reading age, as tested by the special needs department.

To begin with, the reading books supplied by school looked promising – clean, attractively covered and illustrated and with easy words but age-appropriate content.  Week by week he unwillingly stumbled his way through them (“Have we DOT to do dis?”).  There was no discernible improvement.

Then the books changed.  Suddenly I was being presented with slim volumes of scantily worded and colourfully illustrated tales of ‘Ned the Greedy Dragon’, ‘Timmy the Flying Goat’ and their ilk.

“Seriously, Danny?” I remonstrated as yet another infant picture reader was dumped on the table.  “The school gave you this as your reading book?”

“I doze it myself,” he smirked conspiratorially, “I doze it ‘tos its easy!”

There followed a short but pointed lecture from me on the short-sightedness of this strategy and the difficulties that would accrue should he – as seemed more than possible – leave school without basic reading skills.

I didn’t feel I was getting through.
Danny, after all, has had seven long years to perfect his reading-avoidance strategies.  He wears them with pride.

Fortunately I know Danny well.  As I’ve discovered through our years together, motivation is everything with him.  A memory was stirring somewhere in my mind.  I recalled beginning to write a simplified version of Life: A Player’s Guide aimed at 9-12 year olds.  A short rummage around my PC’s hard drive revealed it: Coran and the Cosmic Computer Game.

English: Monitor "My Computer" icon ...
Would this story of avatar creation and computer coding in a sci-fi location be of interest to Danny?  I strongly suspected that it would.  I was also confident that he would be able to grasp – and relish – the analogy being drawn to Life.  Would the words be beyond his reading skills?  Well they were quite a way ahead of Timmy the Goat et al.  On the other had, if he were sufficiently motivated…

It was certainly worth a try.
IMG_20150529_085051 (1)First I drew up a grid, so that polysyllabic words could be written out, broken down into their constituent phonemes and blends.  (See right.)  Then I printed page 1 of the story:

 

Coran and the Cosmic Computer Game

 A brand new game! Coran was grinning to himself so much that he kept almost bursting into giggles. This was exciting. In fact it was more than exciting.

 He collected his pass and headed for the programming suite. That was where he would meet the programmer who would help him build his avatar and enter The Game.

He looked at the pass. It said he needed to go to Station 4. He headed across to the terminal and was greeted by a tall figure who sat the keyboard.

 “So, it’s nearly your birth-day, Coran,” said the Tall One, with a nod of his head.   “About time for you to do some choosing.”

“Hmm,” said Coran, thinking hard.

 Up where Coran lives, birth-days are not the same as birthdays here. A birth-day there means exactly what it says – the day you will be born!  Now that may seem odd to you, because Coran is already alive, or he couldn’t be saying, “Hmm,” – could he?

 What it means is that Coran is about to be born as a new character in a cosmic computer game. First he needs to select his avatar, which involves making loads of choices, then he will be ready to start playing The Game.

 Coran was trying to decide what sort of character he wanted to be in this game. He’d played it many times before, but this game was so mind-blowingly huge that each attempt could be completely different from all the ones before.

 “Nothing too easy,” he told the Tall One. “I want a real challenge this time. The last game was utterly boring.”

The Tall One smiled to himself and began to type the code on his machine.

“So you want a big challenge, huh?”

 “Definitely,” announced Coran. “My character will  have…”

The title was slow going.  By the end of the second sentence, though, he was reading most words without asking me to lay them out for him on the phoneme grid.  By the end he was barely stumbling on anything.  There were about three words in the whole passage I had to read for him.
He regarded me with wide eyes as he finished.  “I dort it was doin’ to tate me about a hour to read dat,” he said.
“Me too,” I admitted, and we both smiled broadly.
“Dan I read the next bit next time?” he asked.

As I mentioned, with Danny, motivation is everything.  I strongly suspect this is also true of so many of the so-called disaffected or learning-disabled students languishing in our schools.

 

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

Suffering?

Refugee camp for Rwandans located in what is n...

A day or so ago, I had the following request from somebody I know and respect greatly:

“If you have ever wondered why there is so much suffering in the world and felt overwhelmed by it I would love to know how you moved on from that.”

This lady is going through a great deal of suffering of her own at the moment.  I’m awed that she has the time and energy to concern herself about the world’s suffering, when she already has plenty to contend with.  The least I can do is to offer her my own response and, given the news items and social media posts we are all seeing at the moment, I thought there might be a wider audience for my reply.

So what follows is very much my personal truth.  I’m not suggesting that anyone else should believe it or follow it, but if anything here feels right to you, by all means feel free to adopt whatever sounds helpful.

To start with, this is what I DON’T believe:

  • I don’t believe in The Devil or any of the ‘forces of evil’ humanity has enjoyed blaming for its problems through the ages.
  • I don’t believe in a vengeful or ‘just’ God who behaves like the worst sort of patriarchal Victorian father, setting up an impossibly high standard of expectations and punishing us for our sins when we fail to live up to them.
  • In fact I don’t believe in sin.
  • I don’t believe in Karma. In my truth, we are not here to atone for things we or the ancestors did ‘wrong’ either in this life or another.
  • I don’t believe humanity is intrinsically bad, wicked, cruel or evil.

Now for what I DO believe:

  • I believe that everyone – each single human being – does what feels and seems right to them, given their situation at the time.  If they are coming from a position of love, they will give, share, help and benefit the world around them in whatever way they choose.  If they are coming from a place of fear or want, they may bully, torture, attack or destroy; they may seek scapegoats (racial minorities, politicians, corporations, the rich, the poor…) to vent their anger and frustration on; they may believe themselves to be powerless and controlled by forces beyond their control.
  • I believe we create our own reality.  Yes, I’m still struggling with this one.  My ego keeps telling me there’s a solid, unchanging basic world here and I’m just a bit-part player who can’t do that much to change things.  Other sources tell me otherwise.  They tell me the keyboard I’m typing on is almost entirely empty space.  They tell me I have complete control over the world I’m living in and that I use my own energy – the power that comes from my thoughts and emotions – to create it.
  • I believe that every atom in the cosmos is a tiny holographic part of GOD.  That makes the universe a living, expanding, creative, vibrant web of which you and I and everyone and everything else out there is a vital and perfect part.
  • So yes, I believe that we – individually and collectively – have tremendous power and are able to form our own reality, by focussing our energy where we choose.
  • I believe that ‘I’ (in the eternal soul sense) chose to be born and to have this particular life, with all its attendant heartbreaks, terrors and difficulties, because that’s what being a human is all about – just like the computer game I used as an analogy in my book.  We all select a storyline beset with puzzles, problems and difficulties in order to find ways to solve and overcome them, to bring love to them and to expand as the divine beings that we really are.  The bigger the problems, the greater the opportunities for growth and expansion – for ‘spreading the love’ if you like.  As Kahlil Gibran said, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”
  • I believe I’m not acting alone; there is infinite help available from the cosmos.  Whether we call this help god, goddess, saints, angels, spirit, guides, nature or muse is irrelevant.  We can interpret and visualise it any way we like, but it is real and there for us, always and all ways.
  • I believe this is tough to grasp and work with, because we’ve just emerged from around 2500 years of giving our power away and expecting others to solve the world’s (and our) problems, while we sit subserviently and wring our hands in despair.

English: Job's Sons and Daughters Overwhelmed ...

Several people have asked me recently why I don’t feel bitter towards those in my life who have caused me suffering on a personal level.  It’s because I know that at some level, I consciously drew those experiences to myself.  They didn’t feel good at the time; they hurt like mad.  It’s those experiences, though, and the ways I finally found to work through them, which have made me the person I am today.  And I haven’t finished growing yet.

So to answer the lady’s question (finally!) I do see the suffering in the world and yes, I could easily become overwhelmed by it, on a personal and a global level.  However I can make choices as to where I put my energy.  I choose to put it into feeling positive, because that helps to ‘grow’ more positivity.  I choose, in my very small way, to spread hope and light and love, because – according to my truth – I am a holographic spark of God and that means I am powerful enough to change the world.  So, of course, are you.

 

PS  A dear and wise friend reminded me yesterday of Anita Moorjani’s amazing story.  In case anyone reading this is interested, click here for her Ted Talk: Dying to Live.  It explains with far more eloquence than I can muster the relationship between life and suffering.

 

Thanks and a Free Mini-Book for You

Big milestone for me this week 🙂

This blog now has over 100 followers!!

Not huge, perhaps, by some standards, but I’m utterly delighted and just wanted to say how much I appreciate these people who have chosen to read my diverse ramblings and, in many cases, to leave comments and ideas.  Thank you!

I’ve made some amazing contacts around the world during my year-and-a-bit of blogging.

lifeisagame-coverTo celebrate, I’m going to give all of you – and anyone else who happens to stray on to this post – a free PDF copy of my very short ebook: LIFE IS A GAME: YOU CREATED IT, complete with snazzy cover by my son – talented graphic designer  Joe Stone.

It currently retails on Amazon sites as a Kindle edition for a modest amount but this version is completely FREE if you  click on >>>>>this link<<<<<.  Please read, print, share or download it as you wish (making sure you include the copyright notice within it, of course).

I really hope those of you who haven’t read it before become intrigued and keen to find out more about the ideas it contains.  I’ll continue to expand on these from time to time on this blog, and of course there’s far more detail in my full length book, LIFE: A PLAYER’S GUIDE.

Further Adventures of Simeon – Looking Death in the Eye

Eye death

In my last post, I introduced Simeon – a 14 year old with learning difficulties and a strong desire to join the British Army, along with a conviction that his life was over because he wouldn’t be able to fulfil this dream.

My first thought was: ‘He’s right – they’d never accept him.  Still, at least that’s one nice kid who won’t come home in a coffin or with limbs missing a few years on.’

Hot on the heels of that came: ‘And anyhow, he has no idea what army life involves.  He’s just spent too many hours playing Call of Duty and fantasising about holding a gun and killing anyone who gets in his way.’

Slowly it occurred to me that beyond my prejudices I had no real knowledge about the army.  I also had no right to dismiss Simeon’s dream so lightly.  I therefore decided to investigate further.  That way, I’d be able to give him more information.  He’d know whether he had any hope of joining the army and he’d also have a more realistic idea of what army life involved.  I also nursed a suspicion and hope that as his skills and self-confidence improved, he’d be ready to let go of the desire to hide behind heavy weaponry.

As you might expect, the Ministry of Defence has a comprehensive website, positively bursting with information on recruitment.

The good news, from Simeon’s viewpoint, was that he wouldn’t be expected to have passed any school exams.  On the other hand, he would have to sit a whole raft of tests and assessments if he wished to join up.  There is a useful section of practice tests for aspiring squaddies to try out – even an interactive one where they take part in a team challenge with a bunch of other young hopefuls.

Tried and tested

So when Simeon turned up for the next lesson – quite smiley and cheerful this time – I explained our new programme of study.  We would continue with the maths and English as before, but would also devote some time each lesson to trying out the BARB tests and other assessments the MOD provides online.  We would also research all possible aspects of army life (or as many as the Ministry felt willing to show us) so that, when the time came, he’d be able to make an informed choice about his future career.

He approved.

The first test was called Reasoning.  It had questions like ‘Bill is heavier than Sam. Who weighs less?‘  Perfect!  Exactly the sort of activity Simeon needed to develop his language processing skills.  He focused completely and scored 10 out of 12.  High fives all round and he was positively beaming.

“I want to try another one,” he said, eagerly.

This time he selected Letter Checking.  It involved scanning pairs of letters and deciding how many of the pairs were matched large and small case versions of the same letter.  Simeon is a very visual learner, so this was a perfect morale-booster.  He scored 100%.  Unable to believe his luck, he ran through it again, with the same result.

As you have probably guessed, not every aspect of the assessment tasks went this smoothly.  Some contained instructions which went way beyond Simeon’s ability to process information.  Initially, he seemed fine with this and persevered by attempting the tests again to try and improve his scores.  However his strategies weren’t great.  He eventually resorted to guessing blindly and consequently found his marks dropping still further.

The following week he arrived in the blackest of moods and told me he’d decided he would live rough when he grew up and would be glad if this shortened his life.  It took a good forty minutes of morale-boosting tasks and encouragement to bring him to a point where he admitted he was feeling better and didn’t really want to be a vagrant.

We’re currently breaking the difficult tasks into smaller, achievable activities before returning to the BARBs.  I praised him at one point for working so hard and applying himself to the challenges I was setting him.
“You’re really making progress,” I said.
“That’s because – for the first time ever – I’m being taught by someone who’s not a complete asshole,” he responded.

Wow.

Like every young person I’ve encountered on the autistic spectrum, Simeon has a sensitivity to the thoughts and feelings of others that borders on telepathy.
“How would you feel,” he asked, watching my face keenly, “if I came back from a spell in the army and I had killed some people?”

I really didn’t need to reply.  He’d understood that despite the effort I’m making to help him reach his dream, I struggle with the idea of anyone ending the life of someone’s child, someone’s friend, someone’s spouse or parent.

He sat for a few moments, talking quietly about the implications of ending a life and admitting that he’d never before truly looked at the repercussions.  For the first time the fantasy and the reality were starting to separate in his mind and I saw that at some point, much further down the line, we’ll be having some deep conversations on this subject.

I have the greatest respect for Simeon and total faith in his ability to make positive choices in the future.

Who is playing Version 2.0 of the Game of Life?

Imagine a huge 3D video screen – bigger and brighter than anything yet invented.

On this screen, imagine a massively exciting, unpredictable and totally addictive role player computer game playing out.   Untold numbers of fully functional little avatars are scurrying around, busily engaged in their tasks, quests and challenges.  They interact with one another and drift apart, making new connections and gaining extra experience as every moment passes.

You are participating in this game.

Yes, right now.

You call it life.

And before you tell me that it isn’t remotely exciting, let me point out that you have completely free choice about where you go and what you do.  There’s plenty of interesting and challenging stuff out there… just be careful what you wish for.

 

The real question is this: How exactly are you participating in the game?  Are you one of the on-screen characters, or avatars, as they’re called?  Or maybe you’re the person controlling them, the one with the game controller in your hands.  You could even be the designer and creator of the game – the one who came up with the whole idea.

I would argue (in fact I do, in my book Life: A Player’s Guide) that at some level, you are all three.

Insofar as you are linked to the rest of the creative energy of the Cosmos, you have designed and built this amazing, astoundingly complex Game of Life within a 3 dimensional matrix of time and space.

Game Controller

Game Controller (Photo credit: RambergMediaImages)

 

Given that you have a consciousness that extends beyond your physical body, that is the part of you which selected the avatar, chose its start location and the challenges it wanted to explore.  That  greater consciousness continues to provide guidance and set up opportunities for the on-screen character throughout the whole game.  That part of you is holding the controller.  As in any game, though, there are unexpected twists and turns, hazards and surprises.

 

If you’re playing Version 1 of this game of life, though, you won’t be aware of much of that, because there’s an in-built ‘amnesia chip’ that leaves you believing this 3D action on the screen of life is all there is.  You’re so caught up in the on-screen action that you have more or less forgotten the rest.

In Life: A Player’s Guide I put it this way:

You are more than your avatar. You are a perfect holographic part of the creator. You are conscious energy; so is everything and everyone around you.

 

Some people, most of whom started ‘playing’ within the last 30 or so years, are experimenting with what we might term the upgraded version.  These people are playing Version 2.0 of the game.  They have an enhanced awareness of the multiple dimensions involved.  In short, they’re less caught up in what is happening on the 3D screen and more aware of all that’s going on around and beyond it.  We can call that the Cosmos, the Multiverse, the Mind or whatever you like.

These people are regarded with deep suspicion by the vast majority of the Version 1 players, who find their differently orientated brains and altered focus strange, worrying or just plain weird.

Having worked in education for many years, I have become an interested spectator.  I have listened in awe and delight to the growing number of young people who have knowledge, innate skills and comprehension far beyond my own.  I have watched parents, the media, the ‘experts’ and those in authority attempt to classify, suppress and ‘normalise’ them.  I’ve watched as they are drugged with Ritalin, branded as disordered, forced to abandon their inner knowledge or derided as geeks, nerds or weirdos.

Yet if we Version 1 players can move beyond our fevered attention to the game and look beyond the screen for a moment, we will start to recognise the gifts our psychic and wonderful young teachers are bringing us.

Though we seem to be sleeping there is an inner wakefulness that directs the dream, and that will eventually startle us back to the Truth of who we are. —Rumi

 

Why do I believe Life is a game?

lifeisagame-cover2
So many people have asked me, over the last couple of months, what this book of mine (Life: A Player’s Guide) is all about.
“Is it fiction?” they ask hopefully.
When I tell them it isn’t – that it’s stuff I really believe – they often look a bit confused.
“But you don’t actually, er, believe that life is a game, do you?”
I nod. “Yup. I do, actually. It’s the only way it makes sense to me. Why else would we put ourselves through all this?”
Their confusion grows.
“How exactly do you reckon that works then?”

Telling them they’d need to read the book seems a bit of a cop-out, but it isn’t easy to explain my whole philosophy of life in a couple of sentences. I’ve tried. People tend to glaze over or back away hastily.

That’s what led me to create the ‘mini ebook’. It’s only a few pages long and lets anyone who is vaguely interested dip their toes in the water of the whole Janonlife idea. After reading it, if they want to know more, there’s always Life: A Player’s Guide

The mini ebook is available on Amazon Kindle for $0.99 or equivalent (about 77p in UK) It’s called Life Is A Game: You Created It by Jan Stone. Alternatively, there’s a link to the free PDF version on my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/janstoneauthor.

Maybe a few of my friends will be slightly less confused now.
The mini ebook might even help some of my blog readers to understand some of the ideas I mention in my posts.

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.

So why is life like a video game?

The idea that life is a game has been kicking around for centuries.  It’s quite a deep one, when you think about it.  Look at it quickly and it seems to suggest that this isn’t the ‘real thing’ – but something else is…

Look at the idea more slowly and you’ll see it doesn’t suggest that.  Games are perfectly real, but there’s something else beyond them.  That, to me, seems closer to the mark.

A couple of years ago, I was listening to a group of friends sitting around together chatting about this and that.  They were a friendly, pleasant enough bunch of people.  One told us that her 13-year-old stepson was visiting.  She went on to say that he’d spent almost the whole weekend playing a computer game.  I expect you can imagine the way the conversation went.  The others shared her exasperation.  They spoke of how, when they were young, they had played ‘real’ games; gone outside and ridden bikes, climbed trees and so on.  They shook their heads and tutted at the waste of time and energy expended on something so pointless.

So let’s think about this.  These people felt it was limiting for someone to spend his life playing out this role in a two-dimensional environment, when there was a whole three-dimensional experience out there passing him by, because he wouldn’t shift his focus to look at it.  Fair point?

If LIFE is a game, though, maybe – just maybe – we are spending our time playing out our roles in this three-dimensional environment, when there is a whole multi-dimensional experience out there passing us by…

If that idea intrigues you, why not take a look at Life: A Player’s Guide.  Not only does it explain how life works as a virtual computer game; it explains how to begin accessing those other dimensions and expand your experience.  It suggests that not only are you playing the game – you’re creating it!