From Video Game to Reality
When I was 14, I had an insatiable addiction for the video game Asteroids. Every quarter I made from cutting lawns and other odd jobs was fed into the single Asteroids console, standing adjacent to two pinball machines, at Jim’s News & Arcade in Medford, NJ.
The player’s objective was to use their spaceship to hunt and destroy as many asteroids as possible. I eventually got fairly proficient, able to play a single game for hours before dying – usually with a high-score of over 500,000 points. The key to being able to play for so long was that while the game starts out with just 3 spaceships (or “lives”), every 10,000 points accrued an extra spaceship.
But as the score got higher, the game got harder. The speed of the game increased, more asteroids filled the screen, and nefarious alien flying saucers become more competent in their ability to shoot down a player’s ship. Even more sinister was the relentless heartbeat sound effect that quickened as the game progressed – something akin to the Jaws two-note “shark” theme denoting an impending attack. All this created a lot more player stress as play advanced.
The Stress-Reducing Freedom of Extra Lives
Each time an extra spaceship was awarded, the game emitted a two-second pulsing ringtone (similar to an egg timer). As annoying as the sound was, it meant that another ship (life) had been allocated. And each extra ship was displayed near the top of the screen showing players how many lives they had left.
Once I had amassed thirty or so “extra lives” stretching across the game console, life was good. At that point, I could play stress free knowing that any mistake would mean very little. I had so many extra lives that I could enjoy the game without worry.
And therein lies the key to what Asteroids can teach us about reality.
But not what we think is reality, rather, true reality.
What Reality Is Not
Most of us believe that reality is determined by what our senses incorporate and our brains subsequently process.
There is an objective world “out there” within which we conduct our lives. All our experiences and interactions shape our view of life and to a very large extent cause our emotions.
But that’s not how it works.
Our emotions don’t result from what’s going on around us or within our body.
All of our experiences of both joy and pain, happiness and sadness, ecstasy and suffering come from a choice in the mind.
Having nothing to do with other people. Having nothing to do with anything going on in our lives.
So if we want to change our experiences, we need to change our mind.
The Nature of Mind
Mind is a curious construct. For one thing, it is not the brain.
The brain is an organ in our body, mind is not.
Not only is the mind not in the body, it isn’t even in the world. A bit like consciousness.
Mind is not something that can understood from the dualistic subject-object framework, so the best we can do is use symbols and words and metaphors to tangentially approach comprehension.
There are two components to the nature of mind. Philosophers and seers have used various phrases to describe this pair, the more common being ego and spirit.
The ego mind is the seat of duality and separation. You are I are separate from one another. We have varying needs and interests that may sometimes overlap, but for the most part, we each are the center of our own universe.
If we can help each other, great. But if we’re at odds – and especially if we’re vying for the same limited resources – then our wills will be opposed.
The mind of spirit, on the other hand, is the realm of unity and abundance. It is completely orthogonal to the ego. From spirit, we recognize our true nature as part of the infinite oneness. There is no difference and no separation between you and I. Our purpose is shared.
From spirit there is no lack, and hence no need to compete for anything. There is no separation between your will and my will. We will together. In fact, we are of one will.
And then there’s the “decision maker”.
In every moment, we are making a decision. Whether we are conscious of it or not – and most often we’re not – we are making this choice all the time.
And that choice is for either the ego or spirit.
It’s an all-or-nothing choice. There is no part ego, part spirit. It’s all ego or all spirit.
And in that choice – in every instant – lies our imprisonment or our freedom.
The Real World
The world we experience, the emotions we feel, are the result of which mind we’ve chosen: ego or spirit.
Following the choice in the mind, then do the body and brain act in such a way to realize the apriori result of the decision maker’s choice.
We’ve been so conditioned and habituated to believe that our experiences and emotions objectively occur as a result of our various encounters with the world and other people.
But we’ve got it backwards. What we experience is based on which choice we made in the mind.
Which is what brings us back to Asteroids and what it can teach us about true reality.
The Nature of Reality
If you knew – with total certainty, zero doubt – that you were infinite in nature, embraced in love, lacking nothing, and could never suffer or die, how would you feel?
Pretty peaceful, right?
Imagine an Asteroids game where instead of 30 “extra lives” you had an infinite number. No amount of crashing asteroids or alien flying saucers could change the fact that not only will you never lose, but you’ll always have the highest score.
Whether you have an off day and don’t fly your ship well, or you have a lackluster year and keep crashing, or lifetimes of getting blasted by flying saucers – it makes no difference. You will win and come out on top.
And you won’t be alone.
Because everyone is playing that no-lose Asteroids game.
Only most of us don’t realize we’re playing. And we certainly don’t believe we can’t lose. But that’s only because we’re choosing the ego mind.
Making a Different Choice
When we choose the mind of spirit, no matter how briefly, we experience euphoric joy. In that instant, we recognize the true nature of our infinite reality, our shared purpose with everyone and everything, and the unity of oneness.
This blissful peace can barely be described. In the poetic words of A Course in Miracles, in that moment of choosing the mind of spirit,
You have no cares and no concerns, no burdens, no anxiety, no pain, no fear of future and no past regrets. In timelessness you rest, while time goes by without its touch upon you.
Thus as often as we can, when we find ourselves sad, lonely, stressed, fearful, or upset in any way – like we are at the bottom of the Asteroids leaderboard and only have one life left – we gently remind ourselves that we’ve chosen the ego mind.
And now we can make a different choice.
One that leads us out of limitation, out of loss, out of all negativity and into the realm of pure happiness. A state in which there is no loss, just joy.
In the immortal words of Mother Teresa, “Life is a game, play it.”