Today’s Life Lesson involves video games.
I can already hear some of you asking – what lesson could I possibly have learnt from video games? Well, it’s a very important lesson actually – one involving concentration and focus.
A History Unfocused
I have never excelled at focusing on a single task. As a child, my attention would flit from topic to topic. I would get distracted and sidetracked easily, and in school I would often take it out on the rest of the class by assisting them to do the same.
It was around 10 or 11 that I was gifted my first video game system – a Super Nintendo. Little did my Dad realize what he had unleashed in me.
For the next 15 years, I would spend the vast majority of my time playing video games. After school, I would come home and sit myself in front of the TV and play Mario for hours. During my teenage years I moved up to PC games, including a whole range of games that I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to play.
As I played more and more games, my life started to become very withdrawn and isolated. My school grades plummeted, my relationships suffered (unless they also played video games, in which case they blossomed, but were often also unhealthy). I couldn’t concentrate unless it was on a video game. There was an element of challenge I felt I could connect with, and I found meaning in the escape, and in setting myself the goal of ‘beating the game’.
Thankfully everything changed as time went by.
Moving from Negative to Positive
My relationship with video games was stunting my personal growth. Over time, and through much personal turmoil, I discovered just how toxic my relationship with video games was. As I attended university and learnt more about how the human body works and how important routine is, I could see my patterns for what they were – self-defeating.
Slowly but surely I pulled myself away from video games (and alcohol, and cigarettes) and into more productive activities. I built positive relationships, I worked hard both in my casual job and at my studies. Eventually I broke the hold video games had over me. I saw it for what it really was – an escape. Video games were a means of disconnecting from myself and from the world.
For a while, I told myself that I had wasted my life up until that point. I had spent so much time escaping and very little time living. But as with all lessons that life teaches you, there were nuggets of wisdom to be drawn from the experience.
The eight-fold Noble Path can be divided into three key pillars: Morality, Wisdom, and Concentration. Within the pillar of Concentration is Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
You know if it comes up twice, it has to be important.
Ever since completing my first Vipassana in November last year, I have been mildly obsessed with Buddhist philosophy. On that retreat, I truly learnt the value of concentration, as well as the value of having little to no external distractions (see my post here for more).
Concentration centers our mind. Having a sharp, still mind is essential for engaging with the world in a fulfilling and helpful manner. The lesson for me was that disconnecting myself by playing video games constantly was essentially destroying my concentration. This had an enormous impact on every aspect of my life. We cannot give ourselves fully to the world and to others if our minds are fragmented and pulled in opposing directions.
Breathing with Attention
One of the most important meditation techniques I have learnt is one that focuses all of your attention on the breath. Whether or not you have a regular meditation practice, you can give this a go yourself.
Sit in a comfortable and alert position, and for at least 20 minutes focus your mind on nothing but the in breath and the out breath. Hold your focus lightly – there shouldn’t be any pressure or ‘forcing’ yourself to focus. Distractions will arise – thoughts, feelings, sensations. That’s ok, let them be and come back to the breath.
It’s deceptively simple.
One thing you will find, if you are not an experienced meditator (and perhaps, even when you are!) is just how often your mind pulls you out of the present and into the past or future. There are so many things in our lives that compete for our attention. There are also many things we choose not to tolerate. I often find it difficult to meditate if there is a foreign, unusual noise – say, someone doing the mowing.
As time goes by however, with commitment and perseverance, you find that these external noises, along with the internal ones, don’t quite hold as much sway as they used to. There will be times of frustration; times of doubt about whether you can do it or whether it works. There will even be times when you give up. That’s ok – it’s all part of the process.
A Shifting Focus
Another lesson video games have taught me is the importance of being able to shift your focus and attention. My focus used to be narrow, and would only encompass things I liked (video games, alcohol, cigarettes) and would ignore of even be downright averse to other things (vulnerability, challenge, routine). Now, as opposed to outwardly focusing on video games and other distractions, I focus my attention inside. My aim now is to strengthen my concentration on that place of stillness and peace in my mind, the place we all share deep down.
What do you focus on? Where is your concentration leaking? How many things do you juggle? How often do you focus on one thing and one thing only? Is there anything you want to change?
Keep striving to understand yourself and your world.
Stephen is a budding counsellor, avid craft beer enthusiast, and part-time Buddhist. He enjoys hiking, connecting with nature, losing himself in deep conversation, and contributing to the Conscious Beginnings blog.