When Satya and I started running a Buddhist temple it felt like we had suddenly progressed to the next level of the game. I can almost see the cut scene, and hear the music: the temple rendered in 8-bit glory the 8-bit beeps and whistles. When we got our puppy a month ago it felt like the same thing. I can think of other moments that were like that as well: getting married, moving into my first Buddhist community and training as a monk, my first time directing theatre…
All of these things have ultimately been rewarding. That’s that thing about the next level — the monsters are harder to beat, and the puzzles are harder to solve, but there is more treasure as well.
And at some point — when you are in the middle of playing — you level up: your character gets stronger, or quicker, or more magical, and the game is easier again.
It can be like that in life too.
Before Aiko the puppy arrived I did lots of reading about how to look after dogs. Some of it helpful, some of it less so. I came away with some useful knowledge, and the amount I read also fed into my anxiety about trying to get things absolutely right (an impossible task, of course).
We had a one to one with a puppy trainer, and we’re going to Dog’s Trust training classes, and for a while none of that seemed to make any difference to my anxiety. And then one morning it was just easier.
I levelled up.
I reached a point where I felt like I more or less knew what I was doing and my inner system changed as well, I had become more relaxed about the whole thing. The first one is easy to explain: all of that reading and training and practicing was paying off. My inner system adjusting was just as important but how that change happened might be less obvious.
I think the most important part of the process of inner change was finding spaces where I could be heard, and where I could be supported to hear myself. Spaces where it’s okay to say – “I’m finding this hard”.
As Carl Rogers said: “We cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.”
How does this work? Deep acceptance of who we are means that our defensive postures and habits relax, and when they relax — we become more like who we really are.
The difficult times in life — when we progress to the next level — can be great gifts because alongside the difficulty they offer these wonderful opportunities for learning both practical skills, and for letting go of anxieties, compulsions and negative self-belief and we can come out of the situations better than when we went in.
As a gamer might say: sometimes you need to grind to level up.