While walking in a park one calm and cool autumn, from out of the enjoyment of a ten minute moment, with trees bathed in fall colours, with birds—black-eyed juncos, chickadees and sparrows—pecking among leaves and squirrels running around like maniacs, from out of the overcast white sky comes a question.
Is it serious?
“It depends,” you say. “What is “it”? Is a mouse serious? A mouse thinks so. That’s why he runs. Owls think mice are serious. Survival is serious to survivors. Owl and mouse do owl and mouse things to survive just as humans do human things to survive (except with TVs, toilets and machines). The difference is, whereas a mouse and owl won’t understand what “serious” is, a human might.
Think of it as a game. (Cue music: “Get off of my cloud”.)
In the first chapter of Finite and Infinite Games, James P. Carse lays out a theory in two sentences, “There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play” (James P. Carse).
Mouse vs. owl is a finite game. A mouse named Jimmy can escape (win) or be eaten (lose). An owl named Janice can eat (win) or starve (lose). The dead are losers. Death is the triumph of past over future, but if life is the prize for winning, finite players aren’t living.
What is won in finite games is a title (p. 19). In death, titles replace life. When you die, attempts to win titles stop. We take finite games serious, but in seriousness and certainty we lose awareness of wonder and the infinite game we’re playing.
Beyond the immediate owl and mouse competition (little picture), there is an infinite game (big picture) where owl and mouse play “live and let die” so others can continue.
In an infinite game players play (and die) to keep the game going. Finite games have boundaries, infinite games don’t. You can’t tell how long an infinite game has been playing (Philosophical Explorations).
Is the universe serious? Is air travel, brain surgery and regular maintenance serious? Something is serious or it isn’t unless, of course, what is serious actually isn’t.
Are birds in trees serious? Are fish in seas and people in parks, serious? Is a goose standing on one foot stretching his wings among other geese, serious? Is a woman standing on one foot stretching among other women stretching, serious? Is a man selling drugs to another man, serious? Is a cat pouncing on a sparrow, serious?
Life and death feel serious. Ask any cancer survivor, terrorist or soldier. But like the comedian Louis C.K., we too can feel that life is “OK” but we don’t need it. “Make a list of every shitty thing ever. That’s in life… You know how much I like life? I have never killed myself” (Louis C.K. 2017).
People who kill themselves and/or others take it too serious. It isn’t a question of whether it “‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” as Hamlet asked. We know it ’tis! Suffering is part of the game to be enjoyed without masochism. Allow suffering to be there without trying to forget or escape. It moves to the periphery and you feel bliss filled in the centre because you’re free.
For millions (billions?) of people, a lot of the time (most of the time?), life does not feel blissful as in perfectly happy, but then again, as it is written, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” but if you try sometimes, you’ll find, you get what’s agreed.
It’s like the joke Woody Allen told the gist of which goes, “The food in this place is terrible!” “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” To Woody, life is “full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.”
Something “serious” is important, grave, sombre, heavy, weighty, critical, sincere, in earnest and not trifling (Dictionary.com). Is that how “it” is? Is life grave sombre, heavy, and weighty?
The Power Thesaurus lists 509 words that are the opposite of “serious,” including: funny, playful, light, unimportant, silly, trivial, lighthearted, ridiculous, happy, laughable, merry, easy, trippy, unwise and priceless. How would it feel if instead of thinking it is serious, you thought the opposite? It is funny, light and playful!
How would you feel, “to be on your own, with no direction home, a complete unknown, just like a rolling stone?” (“Like a Rolling Stone”). What if you could see finite games for what they are?
The truth is, most of what we think of as important actually isn’t. On and off. On and off. Now you see it. Now you don’t. Here and gone as if what was there never wasn’t. That is the infinite game we play so others can continue.
A test for what you see as true is to look at your day without trying to change it. Let your day rock and roll as it will. Recognize what you can and can’t do. Alter what you think is true. With a rock and roll mindset, you are free to swagger. Nothing can hurt you.
You don’t get what you want? So what. Someone slights you? Big deal. People don’t know what they’re doing, if they did, there wouldn’t be problems. It is and/isn’t serious. Instead of swimming upstream, enjoy flowing (see also The Art of Enjoying).
Live without worry and strain. The less you strain, the more free you are. There is only so much you can do. Beyond that, you’re helpless. Enjoy it. With this realization, comes freedom to enjoy an infinite game. Look on the light side and give a whistle.