Thought is a game, and it is also the most engrossing game there ever was. It’s ‘the most engrossing game there ever was’ because it creates new problems for us as it goes along, and the very act of solving or trying to solve them automatically engenders a whole new crop of problems. We could say that thought is as engrossing as it is because engaging in it immediately gives rise to a ‘non-terminating problem’, a problem that grows and grows and grows as we do our best to make it shrink, (which is of course what we want it to) or we could also say that thought is immersive, in that it quickly becomes very real to us, and consequently ‘all-consuming’. Being ‘all-consuming’ is what allows the game to seem so real – what’s happening is that we are focusing so much on the thinking process that we are becoming oblivious to anything else. Thought presents us with problems and in order to be able to solve them we have to focus completely on them. We are compelled (if we want to ‘solve the problem’, which we do want to do) to adapt ourselves to the frame of reference that thought has provided us with. What this comes down to is ‘optimising our game’ and optimising our game is always a trade-off because the better we get playing it, again, the more real it becomes for us.
Before we adapt ourselves to the frame of reference that is being provided for us by the game the problems or issues that the game is dangling in front of our noses don’t seem so important – they are important in terms of ‘playing the game’ (which is to say, they are important within the terms of reference at the game itself is providing us with) but because we aren’t yet playing that means that they’re not really important. We can choose for them to be important, but they’re not otherwise. Their so-called ‘importance’ is a made-up thing, a fiction, in other words. The problems that exist within the game are actually ultimately unimportant, when it comes down to it, and this is another way of saying that they don’t actually exist. Each ‘made-up’ problem comes with a lure however and that lure is the good feeling that comes when we solve it; this is what sucks is in therefore – the ‘good feeling’ we get from successfully controlling (or ‘winning’) is the cheese in the mousetrap and the ‘mousetrap’ is the game itself…
When we ‘solve the problem’ that makes us feel good but the thing about this is that in order to solve the problem we have had to adapt ourselves to the FOR provided for us by the game – that’s the only way to solve it, after all! ‘Solving the problem’ means adapting ourselves to the game’s FOR and ‘adapting ourselves to the game’s FOR‘ means ‘making the game real for us’, and this means that the whole thing is a very slippery slope. What we’re talking about here is a very slippery slope or mousetrap, depending on which way we want to look at it! Actually, of course, ‘the problem presented to us by the game’ and ‘the game’ are one and the same thing and so by agreeing to solve the problem we have also agreed to play the game.
So if we say that ‘the lure’ or ‘the tempting piece of cheese’ is a good feeling we get from having successfully solving the problem then we can also say that once we have succumbed to the lure in this way then we immediately become subject to the big stick that is threatening us from behind, the stick which is ‘the fear of not being out to solve the problem’. The carrot and the stick always go together, after all. When we make this first ‘move’ in playing the game this feels like a free choice on our part but what happens then is that we immediately pass into a realm where everything is based on compulsion. When we solve (or try to solve) a problem we don’t do this because we freely choose to do so, we do it because we have to. We have no choice because we are afraid not to fix the problem – ‘an unfixed problem’ is something that is very threatening to us and we are thus compelled to try to do something about it.
Saying that we are ‘compelled try to fix the problem’ is the same thing as saying that we are ‘compelled to play the game’ and that is exactly what games are – a game is a realm in which everything we do and everything we think is based upon compulsion. That’s why there is never any ‘rest’ or ‘genuine peace’ in a game – because we always have to be striving to win! ‘Striving to win’ might seem like a great thing, and we always say that it’s a great thing, but what it really is is ‘an unfree situation’. We have been dominated by the system of extrinsic meaning, the ‘black-and-white, all-or-nothing type of meaning’ that comes from outside of us and which has nothing to do with us. A game disempowers us very thoroughly indeed therefore – it disempowers us because it takes away our freedom. We don’t play the game because we want to – which is how we perceive it – we play because we have to. We don’t play the game, it plays us…
We can say two things about the Game of Thought therefore: one is that it is ‘real only because we have unwittingly or unknowingly agreed for it to be so’, and the other is that ‘there is no freedom in it’. There is neither freedom nor reality in a game. In one way this comes as no big news to us since we all know perfectly well that games are not real, and if we thought about it we would probably also agree that there is no freedom in it either. What is much harder to come to terms with is the realisation that the only world we know is the world that has been created by thought, and which is therefore ‘the Game of Thought’. When we play what we recognise ordinarily to be ‘games’ these are really only ‘sub-games’ within the greater game, within the All-Encompassing Game which is the Game of Thought, in exactly the same way that we can have ‘a dream within a dream’ (to use the title of Edgar Allen Poe’s celebrated poem). We might be able to desist from playing games that exist within a game but we can never stop playing the game itself, the game that we don’t even know we’re playing. We are free to think different thoughts (perhaps), but we aren’t free not to think in this game! Not to think isn’t allowed.
We all imagine that we can become free, that we can find peace, or genuine rest, just the same as we imagine that we can potentially achieve any other worthwhile goal, but that would be true only if we had any actual autonomy and have already said we haven’t! There is no such thing as autonomy within a game and there’s no such thing as autonomy within the Game of Thought, which is the All-Encompassing Game. That would be a contradiction in terms. We don’t play the game, the game plays us (as we have just said) and – this being the case – how is it that we expect this state of inverted autonomy (or heteronomy) to ever lead to freedom or peace? When we say that ‘the game plays us’ this is just another way of saying that ‘we are the game’ or that ‘the game is us’; just as extrinsic meaning is meaning that comes from the outside of us and which (therefore) has nothing to do with us, so too does ‘who we understand or perceive ourselves to be’ from outside of us and that on this account – has nothing to do with our intrinsic nature. This being the case, how we imagine that the game (or thought) is ever going to do anything good for us, or take us anywhere worthwhile? This being the case, how can we imagine – as we most certainly do imagine – that there is any actual meaning in conditioned (or mind-created) existence?