2020 is just around the corner! Congratulations, contestants, for making it this far!

Things are starting to get interesting!

We’re pulling into the finish line on yet another ten year cycle. Maybe you are celebrating 2019 like a champion. Or maybe the last year of the teens beat you like a rented mule. No matter. We are at that arbitrary point in the year where we get to punch RESET and gear up for the grand entrance of a whole new decade!

For me personally, I don’t like to wait for the Julian calendar to grant permission for a shut down and reboot. I do it any time my personal screen freezes from too many open apps and too much time in any particular rut. It’s not that I think New Year’s resolutions are a bad thing, I just have better success of modifying my behavior if I practice it all year around.

But there is a cultural agreement that New Year’s is a good time for us humans to take a collective breath and decide what’s important in our lives, what to keep and what to throw away. We get to ask ourselves, “What would make my life better?”

But how to actually implement those new ideas with some hope of success? We know there are things that we would like to do differently, but it can get frustrating when our good intentions don’t bear fruit.

Dr Joe Dispenza reminds us that if you think the same thoughts, feel the same feelings, and do the same things that you will probably get the same results. So, what am I thinking, feeling, and doing? Even before we try to will ourselves into some new way of being or acting, it is necessary to embrace the way we are now. It’s difficult to change before you actually love and accept yourself exactly as you are right now.

Some people pile new resolutions on top of old ones, thinking that, “This is the time I’ll lose that 20 pounds, get to the gym four times a week, finish my Ph.D., etc.” And sometimes that little bit of resolve is all that it takes to get the job done. But all too often, our new intention runs smack into the teeth of old intentions that are still operational.

Jack’s virtuous resolution to quit smoking gets undermined by the hidden “Yeah, but…I like to smoke.” The new intention won’t have any bite until the old one is examined and released. It is a choice to light up each time, and what it gives him FEELS more beneficial than the expected benefits of stopping. If Jack is still getting mileage out of smoking, the new resolution will set up an internal conflict that makes Jack edgy. He handles that by lighting up, and then he feels bad about his failure to execute his intention. And he’ll self-soothe by lighting up. Rinse. Repeat.

Jack is still playing the old game (“I like to smoke.”), but now wants to introduce a new game (“I’m quitting.”) on top of that one. He may not even be aware of the old intention, but it’s still in effect at the preconscious level. His mind says, “Smoking is bad,” but his body says, “But I like it.” At some level, tobacco is medicine for him, or was at one point in his life. But any medicine in the wrong dosage or improperly applied can be harmful. In his old game, smoking was the best answer he could find for the circumstances he faced. But circumstances change. Does my old solution still work in my present situation?

I present Jack’s dilemma to illustrate the mechanism of “intention counter intention,” not to oversimplify resolving addictions. Any addiction is a complex process and must be dealt with on an individual basis. Habits get established when conscious choices become at least partly unconscious. Returning them to consciousness helps us regain control over something that is controlling us.

What Game am I Playing Now?

When you strip away the genre difference and technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.     Jane McGonigal, game designer, author

“I’m walking here!”

Some may bristle at calling the serious stuff they are doing a “game,” but it can be useful to do so. It’s not meant to trivialize what someone is going through, but to open up our mental space whenever we are overwhelmed or confused by the events of life. (I use it for self-reflection, rather than labeling someone else’s difficulties as a “game.” Using this tool is optional and only works when you do it freely.) Examining a situation in this light gives us a little distance and allows the self-protections of the ego to relax a little. It shines the light of mindfulness into areas that can get dark and confused.

Equally important is that it reminds us that there is some element of voluntary participation in engaging life in an awakened state.

Lila is the Sanskrit term for “play, sport, spontaneity, or drama…in Hinduism, a term that has several different meanings, most focusing in one way or another on the effortless or playful relation between the Absolute, or Brahman, and the contingent world.” (Britannica.com)

Lila is “divine play.” It is one way of thinking about the dance of Unmanifest and Manifest, giving it an anthropomorphic spin. (God as the Playful Creator.) We can bring some of that divinity into our lives through enhanced awareness of our habitual behaviors…into the uncomfortable stuff that keeps us stuck in unwanted conditions. We awaken the preconscious through the light of conscious awareness. “I am not this thing that is happening, but it is something that I am involved in.”

Asking yourself, “What game am I playing now?” enables you to witness your own actions, emotions, or thoughts as they are. “I am playing the game of being upset with my friend.” “I am playing the game of practicing medicine.” “I am playing the game of being 20 pounds overweight.” Clearly identifying the game you are playing is the first step to understanding WHO you are right now. And learning to LOVE that person. Learning to love ourselves, warts and all, is essential to really loving anyone or anything.

We can’t “do what we do while we’re doing it” unless we know what it is that we do.
And that means waking up. Much of the time we get caught up in reacting to old memories, following tired old scripts, trying to live up to expectations of others (real or imagined), or trying to resolve issues that have nothing to do with our current situation. We sleepwalk through life, and the events we encounter are like dreams that happen TO us.

And don’t just focus on the warts. Games can be fun, too. Bringing awareness to what you are doing that is “right” for you can be even more powerful. (I wrote about this a year ago. It’s worth a look. Anxiously Awaiting the New Year) Do a mental “happy dance” for all that you are that you ARE, and all that you DO, that takes your life in the direction you want. You will be rewarded with a shower of neurotransmitters like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and anandamide that will encourage even more positive results.

Examining the game you’re playing can be a powerful tool to bring more authenticity to our relationships with others. All too often we are playing one game, and others are playing a very different one. A classic is in Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” HE just wants to get laid (“We’re gonna go all the way tonight. We’re gonna go all the way tonight.”) , but SHE has something else in mind:

“Will you love me til the end of time? What’s it gonna be, boy…YES…or…NO?”

Two very different games. So many conflicts can be avoided by honestly confronting what your actual intentions are, and clarifying what your partner really wants from your exchange. And even more important, it establishes a common reality.

You can’t really expect to know and understand what game your partner is playing unless you know your own. The game you share will always be in flux. And that is the challenge and the reward of authentic encounter. The relationship is constantly being created.

“Is this the Game I want to Play?”

Once I establish what game I am playing now, the question that follows is:
“Is this the game I want to play?”

This simple little question reminds us that we do have a choice, no matter how dire our circumstances may seem at the time. It allows us an opportunity to shake off feelings of victimhood and hopelessness, and reclaim participatory consciousness. We wake up to remember that, “This is MY life, no matter how difficult it has become. I am a voluntary participant.” We play the cards we are dealt, even if it sometimes seems the dealer is drawing from the bottom of the deck.

“Is this the game I want to play?”

“Determinism versus Free Will” is a question philosophers have argued forever, and I don’t intend to do that here. I consider it moot, fun for people who like to argue, but ultimately unknowable. I prefer a more pragmatic approach. I know that if I act AS IF I have a choice, then things go better than if I imagine I have no choice.

It is a choice to think of life as Lila. Or not. Not everyone does. Some consider that Brahman is the only one who gets to play, and humans are just the “dream of Brahman.” No matter. You don’t have to consider your circumstances as puzzles to solve, or challenges to be met. There are lots of ways to play the game of life. But if you are making New Year’s resolutions, then you have already decided that you have some say in how your life unfolds. This blog is for you.

If you want to change some condition or behavior in your life, it’s a real swell idea to bring mindfulness to what it is you are doing. It takes your behavior off automatic. If you consider it a game, the randomness of life takes on order. You assume you are a voluntary participant, that there is something that you want to accomplish or see happen (goal), and that it is possible to know how you are doing (feedback). “Rules” may be already established (baseball, chess, divorce) or you can create rules as you go along (jazz, poetry, relationships).

First, bring conscious awareness to the situation by asking yourself, “What game am I playing now?” Be honest with yourself. Don’t be glib. You are examining how you are telling the story of your life. Learn to LOVE who and what you are, even if you want to change directions.

Second, “Is this the game I want to play?” Again, be honest. It’s your movie. How do you want it to play out?

And if it’s not the game you want to play, well, what is? The resolutions you are making give you a hint. Give them a chance by clearing the opposition that may already be in place.

Have a bright and wonderful New Year and New Decade!