Vertical Development

How Fearful Addictions Blind Us From Finding Deeper Meaning

For the past couple of years, I’ve been increasingly feeling detached from certain things to the point that they feel meaningless or irrelevant to my life, whereas before they may have provided a lot of joy to it. At first I was concerned why I was feeling this way but recently I’ve come to the realization that this is a natural part of the process of my ongoing transformation and transition to a larger sense of Self.

The best way I can describe this is something Beau Lotto said within his book Deviate.

…if you want to go from A to B, then you must actively engage with the world. But the first step to get to B is to go from A to not-A. To be in not-A is to be in uncertainty, to experience the stimulus without the requisite meaning of the past. The key is to choose to look away from the meanings we have been layering onto stimuli. Stop your reflexive response with awareness… as one can do when one is able to see the cause of a reflex.

Beau Lotto

Basically this detachment I’m feeling is the process of me going from “A to not A.” It’s me stepping away from things in my life because they aren’t provide any substantial meaning to it like they used to (kind of like how people are stepping away from the old concept of “work” today, as it’s not providing the meaning it used to provide). But what’s strange is that instead of “looking way from the meanings,” I’m actually 1) seeing them for what they are, 2) seeing how they helped me in the past, but 3) realizing that they are no longer enough for me to move forward on my journey.

Two examples of this are movies and video games.

I used to love watching movies voraciously. Today though, I’m finding the more I look for something to watch, the more I’m seeing patterns that are old and outdated, rather than new and wondrous. Lately, it’s almost as though there is this resurgence of shoot ’em up type movies, where the lone good hero goes about killing all of the bad guys.

I also used to love playing video games. In fact, video games and their communities were integral to my development and growth as a young adult, helping me to step out of my introverted shell and really take a leadership role with things I cared about. Today though, I’m finding video game environments almost like microcosms of what’s happen in the world today. It’s like there is the same attitude in these video game communities as in these movies, everyone thinks they’re righteously the “good guys” and everyone else is the bad guys that need to be removed or controlled to make “everything better.”

As I noted above, what’s happening with movies and video games is that I’m seeing the underlying meaning of why they are so popular with people but also why they are meaningless to me now because I want to go beyond these meanings and find something deeper. To visualize what I’m talking about here, Richard Barrett has a great chart showing the various levels of consciousness and the values associated with them.

Levels of Consciousness, Barrett Academy for the Advancement of Human Values

If you look at the base three levels of consciousness (1 Survival, 2 Relationships, 3 Self-Esteem), you’re looking at what Robert Kegan describes as the Socialized Mind which encompasses our basic psychological needs and core “positive” values for life, like survival, belonging, and recognition. They help us to “fit in” within society, especially when we’re young and growing up.

Note also, however, that accompanying these “positive values” are “limiting values” as well, like control, blame, and superiority. Why these are limiting values is because they can limit our further growth and development to higher levels of consciousness by addictively trapping us at lower levels of consciousness. To put this another way, it creates a situation where you feel like you (as your ego) are standing in your own way.

A guild raid group tackling a “wicked problem” in World of Warcraft.

A way I like looking at these is seeing life as a roleplaying game and these are “monsters” standing in our way. More specifically, they relate to our monstrous fears. And to further “level up” in life and reach more evolved levels of consciousness, we need to overcome and psychologically “slay” these monstrous fears before we can do so.

What I’ve learnt with regards to my own life though is that you will feel like you have slain these monstrous fears and will have levelled up but then later in your life, these fears will revisit you at a much deeper level than you imagined. Thus you realize that the monstrous fears you felt like you had slain were just the minions of a much larger boss monster that is monumentally harder to overcome. So you have to revisit these monstrous fears and overcome them once and for all or say stuck at the level you’re at.

What I see happening with society as a whole right now is that our base psychological fears and limiting values are keeping us within a vicious addictive loop that we can’t get out of. It’s like we’re drowning but we can’t see what we’re drowning within. What’s even worse though is that people have been becoming aware of these psychological fears and addictions and have started using them for their own benefit, such as politically and economically, increasingly over the past decades.

While I won’t go into political examples, because I think they’re pretty evident, I’d like to show one example of how businesses and even an entire industry is using these fears and addictions for economic gain. I’m talking about the video game industry, as shown in this video below which explains how to psychologically manipulate your gaming customers for your financial benefit. Note that this approach is pretty dominant now in the video game industry, particularly within Free-To-Play games, as this video is from 2016.

Let’s Go Whaling: Tricks for Monetizing Mobile Game Players with Free-To-Play

Remember I said that most people are oblivious to what they’re drowning within? Well that’s what it feels like playing within these video games where these developers are using these techniques to psychologically manipulate their customers as players within it. From my vantage point, I basically can see all of these people around me, particularly males, being manipulated by these very same base limiting values (i.e. control, jealously, revenge, arrogance, pride, superiority) as I mentioned above.

For example, developers of a game will often market new features and items within the game as something that will help you “dominate” your opponents, thus playing into the need to be “superior” and have “control” over others, even if it means having to pay a fortune to do so. So some players in the latest Diablo Immortal mobile free-to-play game were paying over $10,000 to be able to dominate other players.

It’s no different with movies though. These lone good guy hero shoot ’em up movies are feeding off these same fears and limiting values.

Yet this isn’t how you deal with reality in real life. You can’t punch or kill your way out of life’s problems, especially wicked problems like climate change which are systemic in nature and are effectively being created by own ignorant behaviours and beliefs. In effect, as I noted above, we are own own worst enemy standing in our own way.

Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction.

Antonio Guterres

It’s funny. There’s a common quote that a lot of gamers often use when they treat someone else rudely or discriminatorily within video games. They will often say, “it’s just a game”, as though the focal point of what they’re doing not “being real” means they can treat other people however they want. I’ve said to them though that while the game may not be real, the people playing it are very real though and should be treated with some human decency.

Lately though, I’ve realized that this “it’s just a game” quote has taken on a deeper meaning for me. I’ve realized that life is effectively a very deep psychological game of many “levels” of consciousness and most people are completely oblivious and unaware that they are playing it. In effect, gamers are often psychologically playing “a game within a game” when they interact with other players within video games. It’s just that they’re not aware of it.

That’s why I think I have this detachment with so many things I used to have a strong attachment to, like playing video games. They seem frivolous and meaningless now because I’m seeing the larger roleplaying game called Life at a deeper level now and I want to “play a different game,” even showing others how to play it as well or at least work on learning from each other within it.

Put another way, I want to play within a larger context of life itself.

By Nollind Whachell

Questing to translate Joseph Campbell's Hero’s Journey into The Player’s Handbook for The Adventure of Your Life, thus making vertical (leadership) development an accessible, epic framework for everyone.

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