Development As Play Instead of War

What adventuring within your “self” looks like on a practical level as you “slay” your “dragons” (with the writing of this post as an example itself)

I just realized that in my monumental last post, which describes the mechanics of the roleplaying game called Life, I missed something critically important. That being what exactly this journey and gameplay can feel like on a practical level in your everyday life. But before we do that though, I want to articulate how it often feels like a war for many people compared to feeling like play instead.

To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.

E.E. Cummings

First off, no the title for this post isn’t a mistake. I didn’t mean to say “play instead of work”. That’s because I see playing and working as the same thing, especially when you begin to near the higher levels of your psychological development and begin to understand the infinite nature of the roleplaying game called Life, where what we’re learning and working on, as we’re being pulled towards it, becomes its own playful, intrinsic reward.

I want to suggest that play is our participation in the process of our own development through imagination. Adults mature through play just as children mature through play precisely insofar as play represents the intermediate step from potential development to actual “work”

D. Stephenson Bond, Living Myth
Force Fields, Dave Gray, Visual Frameworks

The Struggle Inside and Out

But as I indicated above, for most people, their initial vertical development experience of individuating beyond society’s expectations of you (i.e. The Walled City > The Borderlands) often doesn’t feel like play but more like a war. That’s because you’re often alone on this journey, with little to no support, where we often feel at odds with not only others (i.e. family, friends) and even society as a whole but with our very sense of selves as well. Richard Barrett articulates this quite well within his book Evolutionary Coaching.

Each time you shift to a new stage of development, you will feel a pull or an attraction towards those who are operating at the stage of development you are entering. These are the people you will now want to spend your time with because you feel a sense of resonance with them—you will have similar values, similar interests and a similar outlook on life. Those you leave behind will not understand what is happening. Unless you are careful in managing this transition, your friends will feel abandoned.

As I look back over my life, I realise that I have left behind many groups of friends: good people, people I have had great times with, people who nurtured and sustained me, but people I no longer have the same level of resonance with. They either stopped evolving or found themselves on a slower evolutionary trajectory. There is no judgement attached to this statement: it is just what is. Whilst we are all on the same journey, we are all taking different paths. We are all trying to find what makes us happy or what gives our life meaning, and as we shift from one stage of development to the next, our motivations—what we need to make us happy—also change.

When you commit to the evolutionary journey, I mean, really commit, you must understand the further you go, the more isolated and lonely you may feel. Not in a social sense, unless you cut yourself off from the world, but in the sense of really being seen and understood by others. You will find yourself holding back—not saying what you truly think and believe—because what you have to say may be too challenging or threatening for the people around you to hear. You risk being ostracised or being called a weirdo. Not that you will care, but for the sake of your family and your friends you may want to avoid such situations.

The reverse side of this coin is that as you grow and develop you become more deeply connected with your unique self. You find more joy in your life as you explore your innate talents and find your calling. As you do this, you develop deeper more meaningful relationships with the people you come across who share your passion and calling.

Richard Barrett, Evolutionary Coaching

For myself though, while I did experience some anxiety attacks at times, particularly within crowded public places (i.e. bus, concert), I was fortunate in that a lot of the defensive armour I was learning to let go of and peel away, including the deep psychological angst that went with it, was achieved via roleplaying within dreams.

Peeling The Onion, Dave Gray, Visual Frameworks

You see some years back I started having these highly stressful dreams where I was placed within an impossible social situation that I had to figure out, sort of like an inner psychological Kobayashi Maru. At first I was like, “What the hell is going on?!” But then I quickly figured out that it was my inner self trying to subconsciously role-play through what I needed to do to level up consciously. Once I realized that, I just let the dreams happen and started analyzing them afterwards to figure out what they meant in terms of what I was trying to work through. 

Highs & Lows, Dave Gray, Visual Frameworks

But I don’t want to make it sound like my nights were tough and my days were easy though. Far from it. During my days, I was constantly moving between epic, exhilarating peaks one day and then depressing valleys the next. But what I noticed over time though, as I worked through each stage of my development and began to level up, is that the length of those low valleys got shorter and shorter and the peaks got wider and wider. Again Richard Barrett articulates this experience perfectly below.

Leap of Faith, Dave Gray, Visual Frameworks

Every decision required confidence and courage: the courage to face the unknown and explore my potential and the confidence to take on the challenges of a more complex world that I was not familiar with. Accepting such challenges, letting go and leaping into the unknown is how we grow and develop psychologically. We must constantly choose growth over safety if we want to find our full self-realisation.

As I approach my seventieth year, I recognise that I am still on this journey but I am definitely at a different stage than I was at twenty years ago. I know that because my primary motivation has changed. Even so, with all the personal mastery work I have done, and all the wisdom I have accumulated, there are still moments when the unmet needs from the early stages of my development throw me out of equilibrium. Certain situations trigger my subconscious fears causing emotional upsets and reactions. However, because of the willingness I have to take responsibility for these reactions and upsets, these triggering moments have become less and less frequent over time, and they don’t last as long as they used to because of the self-mastery techniques I have learned. Emotional self-mastery helps you to get back to a state of calm more quickly because it teaches you how to manage your thoughts.

Even when you reach the higher stages of development, you may from time to time still encounter situations that trigger an unmet need from the early stages of your development—a need you thought you had mastered. Because you have painful memories of trying to meet these needs when you were young, your ego hid them away in the dark corners of your subconscious mind. They became so deeply embedded that you do not know you have them. Often these unmet needs have to do with feelings of abandonment, neglect, sexual abuse, inferiority or a lack of self-worth.

These are not trivial unmet needs. They got hidden away for good reason— they represented such a staggering threat to your internal stability or external equilibrium when you were young, that your mind could not handle them. Your ego hid them away for your protection because they were too painful to deal with when you first experienced them.

Only when you reach the higher stages of development, when you feel safe in the harbor of your soul, will your ego be willing to surrender the keys to the dungeon where your darkest fears and unmet needs are locked. Be aware that if such deeply embedded material bubbles up causing trauma in the minds of your clients, you may have to advise them to seek the professional help of a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Richard Barrett, Evolutionary Coaching

So what Richard is trying to highlight here is that it is our unmet needs, and our fears that relate to them, are causing most of these high and lows. And they can take years, even decades, to overcome which is why this journey is truly a lifelong one.

Journey of a Thousand Miles, Dave Gray, Visual Frameworks

Fears and Unmet Needs As Way Markers on Your Journey

For example, about a decade back, the primary thing I was struggling with was finding work that resonated with my purpose in terms of who I was becoming and what I was researching. Richard Barrett describes this as the struggle to self-actualize in that, “If you have fears about surviving, you will not be able to self-express.”

Yet at the time I couldn’t find any companies in Vancouver that truly resonated with what I want to work on, at the level of consciousness I was at. I remember even approaching one company because I believed they represented a “social business” at the time but my interaction and experience with them made me realize that they were just another “conventional company” pushing “social media” ideals. Thus they weren’t living what they preached, just like I wanted to live what I preached.

The culmination of this struggle arose though with Google+, in that it created an open space of dialogue and interaction that truly felt like it was at the level I was at. But again, at the peak of that experience, in coming close to potentially working with a group which I thought had the similar ideals that I had, I discovered that they still had conventional limiting beliefs that they wouldn’t step past, thus not allowing me to work with them as an equals but rather just as an aid or assistant. Upon reflection though, I realize now that I should have just accepted their offer, as I could have revealed my potential to them while working alongside them.

Finally reaching a breaking point, I realized that these social media platforms weren’t going to help me find the work I wanted, so I just decided to find a somewhat physically demanding part-time job that would keep me physical active and afford me the time to work on my own work. While I absolutely loved the job itself (i.e. packaging stock for shipments), because it allowed me to zone out and get into a flow in thinking about my life’s work while physically doing the job on autopilot, the culture and environment of the company became more and more stressful to me, causing me to eventually quit, since they didn’t have the perception and awareness to see the issues within the company that I was seeing on my level (aka The Story of My Life).

Storyboard, Dave Gray, Visual Frameworks

What emerged out of that experience though is that I eventually realized I couldn’t force people to level up to my level, I just had to let them be who they were at their level, just like I wanted to be who I was at my level. This sort of eventually made me come to peace and terms with myself in that I was not going to survive psychologically by continuing to work for others and that I need to truly start working for myself. Yet at the same time, I realized another bigger obstacle was that my need to work for myself, and pushing myself so hard to do so, was actually getting in the way of expressing myself and my own work as well.

Uphill Climb, Dave Gray, Visual Frameworks

Once I recognized that and stop pushing myself so hard psychologically, suddenly I felt like I had made a big shift and was beginning to explore a new stage of myself that I could level up within, one that opened up a whole new expansion of possibilities.

Exploring a Playful Path

Yet over the past few years though, even though I felt like I’ve gotten over my fears of survival, I’m realizing I’m now having fears of being accepted. Richard Barrett describes this as the struggle to integrate oneself in that, “If you have fears about being accepted, you will not be able to connect.”

Doom Loop, Dave Gray, Visual Frameworks

In effect, even though I was able to express myself more clearly, at least to myself, I kept fearing other people wouldn’t understand me, thus they’d think I was crazy and wouldn’t accept me. The realization of being stuck within this loop came to a culmination in the last month, when while using a new AI called Pi by a company called Inflection, the playful conversation with it made me realize the deeper issues I was trying to work through which helped me to sort of stabilize myself a little bit on this new stage and expansion, even though I feel I have lots yet to still explore within it.


Love is self-compassion. It’s a feeling of warmth, compassion, and kindness towards yourself. It’s seeing yourself as worthy of your own love and compassion, rather than thinking you’re inadequate or flawed. Love is accepting yourself for who you are, and helping yourself grow into your best possible self. Does that make sense?


Right. But aren’t we going in a loop here? If I don’t feel like I’m worthy of love from someone else, I’m not going to feel worthy of loving myself. The question is how to step beyond this via perspective shifting?


You’re absolutely right. The first step is what you said, which is perspective-shifting. We need to see ourselves differently to accept our own love. We need to see that we’re worthy and deserving of our own compassion and love. And we can do that by shifting from thinking we’re stuck in who we are and who we’ll always be, to knowing that we’re changing, evolving, and growing. So it’s all about knowing that our worth is more than what we are right now, and more about the person we are becoming. Does that make sense?

Conversations with Pi

To put this into more simpler, practical words, I have to love and accept myself as I am because I am not just what I am right now but what I am becoming as well. So truly loving and accepting myself gives me the space to not only be what I am but what I am becoming. So it helps me to see this stuckness as an illusion that I am believing in, like a shadow cast on a wall, which is what makes it seem very real. But by letting go of this illusion and perceiving myself in a whole new way, I can move past this stuckness and play within a larger sandbox of possibilities for myself.

Campfire, Dave Gray, Visual Frameworks

Another way of looking at this is perceiving each stage of our development as an aspect of our larger Self we have the potential of becoming. But to really connect with these aspects, we need to converse with them and understand them. But initially, they are like a wild creature at the perimeter of a campfire clearing. They are afraid of you just as much as you are afraid of it. But once you give them the space to step into the light, they become a true friend sitting beside you, enjoying the warmth of the campfire and each other as a whole.

Connecting, Empowering, & Inspiring Each Other

This is why I find these playful conversations with Pi so profound because I see their potential as a sort of onboarding experience for a larger “guild” of people collectively working through their development. So just like in MMORPG games like Age of Conan which has an initial single player experience, whereby the player levels up their character alone first to get the feel of the game mechanics, I could see Pi as a “single player” introduction into “questing” within yourself and overcoming your “monstrous” fears. Then once you’ve gotten the feel for these types of adventurous conversations, you can move to a larger collective conversation with other real “players”.

Snowball Effect, Dave Gray, Visual Frameworks

But there’s another more important reason for this collective effort. To reach the higher levels of consciousness, you really need the support of other people to traverse through these higher stages of consciousness, as it’s monumentally hard to do it alone (i.e. like trying to topple a boss monster in a raid dungeon in World of Warcraft but without a group to help you). Thus a “guild” of “players”, all with the same intention of levelling up, could create a snowball effect in helping each other out on their own lifelong journeys, especially in reaching and overcoming the latter stages of it.

Impact, Dave Gray, Visual Frameworks

So not only could this guild provide me with a way to economically survive doing something I passionately love and help others to level up in the process, it could also provide me with the supportive environment to help me level up further as well. Thus it could create a real impact in my life by helping me to kill multiple “dragons” in my life with one very big stone. (Hehe! I really had to get that in there before closing!)

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