How about a new game for the New Year? Let’s play an infinite game of alignment with Life Itself!
In his book The Infinite Game Simon Sinek describes the critical distinctions between a finite game vs. an infinite game. A finite game has fixed rules and an agreed-upon objective that, when reached, ends the game. In a finite game, the point is to “beat” the other player(s) and bring the game to an end, so there is a winner(s) and loser(s). In an infinite game, the point is to perpetuate the game and keep it going indefinitely, so there is no way for one “side” to “win”. In fact, the concepts of “winning”, “losing”, and “beating the other side” are not only not relevant, they are actually dysfunctional in this paradigm. He gives many illuminating real-world examples of how this plays out.
We’ve been playing, and continue to play, the game of life on this Earth as a finite game, with our cultural mindset that life (in all its forms) is:
¨ a zero-sum game to be “won”,
¨ a challenge to be conquered,
¨ a commodity to be consumed,
¨ an obstacle to be overcome,
¨ a problem to be solved
This comes from our mistaken fear-based belief that humans are separate from and superior to Life and nature, and that our role is to control it for our benefit.
However, we’re trying to play the “wrong” game. Life on Earth is an infinite game. We can NOT “win” Life in the usual way we expect to win a finite game. It’s not possible.
And the best news is that we don’t have to! We will have much more real life, fulfillment of all kinds on all levels, and all the “good stuff” we need and want if we shift our mindset to playing an infinite game. That won’t be easy, and it is a challenge worth committing our life energy to.
It will require us to relinquish our ego-driven focus of conquering, controlling, and consuming life and nature (in all its forms) and instead to be stewards in right relationship with respect, reverence, responsibility, and reciprocity. It means developing our cooperating, co-creating, and collaborating capacities and skills to a higher level and using them in the service of a larger game--the well-being of the whole system and the greater good. A worthy challenge, wouldn’t you say?
Our current cultural paradigm of being in a finite game has led to all kinds of negative consequences and polycrises too numerous to list (which I know you’re already painfully aware of), including climate and environmental degradation, social and economic imbalances and upheavals, and mushrooming physical, mental, emotional and spiritual illnesses. We keep trying to “fix” them as isolated problems using our scientific mechanist reductionist paradigm. However, all of these separate-appearing problems are connected as part of a whole system.
Our cultural paradigm/operating system of being the "hero" and “omniscient conqueror" means we’ve been treating ourselves, each other, and the earth as commodities to be conquered, controlled, and consumed. We see ourselves as “knowers,” and believe we can be and we “should” be experts and know it all.
Being the expert and having the “right” answers based on a reductionist model of the world is the model we currently hold as a “sacred cow”, as “the way” to know and do anything. That has given us some remarkable accomplishments and also some fatal blind spots.
In his groundbreaking Introduction to Regenerative Economics course, John Fullerton describes how we’re running the world on a fatally flawed economic theory based on the model of scientific mechanistic reductionism. He describes holism as a “new” (indigenous) way to think and see the world as it really is, because holism explains the creative process of the universe. As he defines it, Regenerative Economics is a holistic, living systems theory of economics that applies nature's laws and patterns of systemic health, self-organization, self-renewal, and regenerative vitality to the design of socio-economic systems.
In 1543 Copernicus published his discovery that the earth actually revolves around the sun. That created a HUGE revolution in our paradigm and identity. I see us facing a similar “rock our world” paradigm shift now. We’re being shown compelling, compounding evidence that, contrary to our beliefs for thousands of years, humans are NOT the “reason for Earth’s existence” or “masters of the Universe”. In this new paradigm, humans are not superior to, in control of, and the center of the world. This is the paradigm that Indigenous peoples have lived by for millennia. Can you see and feel what a transformation in our identity, our purpose, and our meaning that this points to?
Cynthia Bourgeault’s article What Happens In Mindfulness gives a very encouraging, grounded, inspiring pathway and purpose for this paradigm shift. The whole article is well worth reading, in my opinion. Here are some relevant excerpts with my added emphases:
“ . . . we humans come equipped with two independent cognitive processing systems . . . ‘conceptual thinking’ and ‘holistic intuitive thinking’ . . . While it’s true that only one brain can ultimately be in the driver’s seat at any given time, the goal is not to demonize the conceptual brain, but to synchronize the two systems so that they work together in harmonious dialogue. In fact, . . . the central driveshaft of mindfulness—what makes mindfulness what it is, i.e., an integrated field of conscious perceptivity— lies precisely in the dynamic dialogue between these two systems. Authentic mindfulness is . . . a powerful integrative capacity at higher levels of consciousness and within a certain configuration of attention . . . this dialogue engages the mind’s innate capacity for “whole-making”—i.e., the capacity to detect, process, and in fact create, higher and higher levels of interpretive pattern . . . which in turn makes possible a flexible and creative response to life’s ever-changing circumstances. . .
". . . Conceptual knowing is indeed a powerful analytical and problem-solving tool; Western civilization rose on its back. But the difficulty arises when we try to use it to attain the one thing it manifestly cannot deliver: lasting personal happiness. The reason for this failure is ultimately attributable neither to human sinfulness (as Western spiritual teaching has tended to emphasize) nor to human illusion (as the Eastern tradition has taught), but to an inbuilt limit of our operating system. The Catch-22 is that any kind of desiring or grasping for an external object or goal triggers what’s known as the “SEEKER-affect,” one of the core response patterns evolutionarily embedded in the human brain. This in turn causes an immediate shift in the shape of the mind: a constriction of the field of attention and an “instrumental” quality to the awareness, so that it is no longer open to the wealth of impressions available in any moment but hell-bent on the one goal it has taken on for itself. And alas, as soon as conceptual knowing kicks in, authentic mindfulness goes out the window, since it is itself an emergent property of the holistic intuitive way of knowing. . .
". . . An awakened mind is not an unattainable or spiritually presumptuous goal; there is an actual way to get there with only two simple (but not easy) requirements: 1) you must learn to prefer the shape of your mind to the content of your story, and 2) insofar as you possibly can, work to preserve your mind in that state of open, non-instrumental awareness in which holistic intuitive knowing will kick in and you find yourself in that dynamic give-and-take with the whole rich tapestry of awareness available to you in every second . . . An awakened mind may not be that difficult to attain; it’s simply that most of us are not yet prepared to give up that “pig we know,” our familiar sense of selfhood.”
My understanding is that with only “conceptual thinking” (without “holistic intuitive thinking”) we are disconnected and in pieces, which our current system of scientific mechanistic reductionism gives us. However, with the harmonious dynamic dialogue between those two systems, we are connected, whole, integrated, in peace and at peace.
Some complementary perspectives come from Business and the Feminine Principle in which Carol Frenier identifies four feminine principles:
1) diffuse awareness: a “specific feminine capacity of the mind equivalent in power and importance to the masculine focused consciousness. Its difference . . . lies in its whole unbroken state which defies scientific analysis and logical deduction, (emphasis added) and is therefore not possible to formulate in clear unambiguous terms.”
2) the quick of the moment: “Not bound by history or collective principles, the feminine sees newly what is needed to support life in the particular situation, here and now, and it responds accordingly. . . the real gift of the feminine . . . is its loyalty not to ideas, but to life itself.” (emphasis added)
3) accepting the cycles of life: “Sometimes the most difficult thing about life is simply accepting it, particularly its cyclical nature . . . If proper attention is paid to creating the right atmosphere, the important thing can happen on its own. This is the part of life that is mysterious to us, which controls and guides us (emphasis added) rather than the other way around. This is the part of life that the feminine holds in loving and hands.”
4) deep community: like “deep ecology”, deep community “is based on something that lies beneath the visible structures and processes of our society (emphasis added) . . . deep community does not have to be invented, but needs to be experienced and paid attention to. . . It is the foundation level for the rest of our lives, literally our home base.”
These times of enormous disruption are also the very conditions for transformation--both personal and collective. We’re in the chrysalis with the possibility of embracing and integrating the holistic intuitive feminine principle and deep community for a profound inner upgrade. I strongly sense a deeper call to wholeness rippling toward us. May this New Year bring full(er) well-being for all beings!