gamify your practice

Andromeda, modified 5 Years ago at 5/20/18 8:16 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 5/20/18 4:23 AM

gamify your practice

Posts: 393 Join Date: 1/15/18 Recent Posts
For fun! emoticon

Some of this was learned by play and experimentation, but mostly it's a collection of things picked up over the years from all over the place. Apologies for forgetting sources. Please reply with additional ideas if you have them!

May we all play more and suffer less.


Life is fleeting and it will be game over sooner than we think, so playing hard, having fun, and being creative in practice is a very good idea in my opinion. The Theravada system is like a Swiss Army knife of neurohacking tools that allows one the flexibility to do all sorts of things once the fundamentals are nailed down. Formal practice can be like cross training for the rest of your life. The states you intentionally cultivate on the cushion will be more accessible and likely to show up spontaneously during the rest of the day, so carefully examine the relationship between formal and informal practice. Consider martial arts training: the punches, kicks, throws, etc. that you drill the most times will be the ones you are most likely to use during sparring and perhaps also the most likely to be used if you ever have to defend yourself from someone who truly means you harm. The moves which work well in sports may or may not work so well in real life, so choose wisely.

When training a puppy, the carrot (or hotdog) is more effective than the stick and so to do it well we turn everything into a game with tasty treats as rewards for "winning" (aka desirable behavior). Punishing the puppy rarely works and often damages the puppy and one's relationship to it. We humans are no less trainable via the principles of operant conditioning despite having a much larger neocortex. The games that most engage us are the ones that most light up our dopamine reward system, and these are also likely to be the games we spend the most time on (even to the point of addiction) and become most skilled at.

What are your favorite games? Why? How do they hook you? Flow states are achieved when we are in the sweet spot of the ratio between the challenge of the task and our skill level. In a video game, we might begin at level 1 by cheerfully murdering chickens with a single fireball spell. Then we get a DoT and kill elves, then a healing spell lets us survive fights with hordes of zombies, then we learn to use these spells in rotation and in concert with others in a raid to kill giant fire breathing dragons. We start small and simple and level up over time, but because the skill level to challenge ratio is conducive to flow states and we get rewarded with shiny virtual loot that repeatedly makes our brain light up like a Christmas tree, the game effectively hooks us from the beginning and keeps us coming back. 

How can you apply the concepts of progressions and reward to your practice? What mini-games can you create in service to your meta-game? What are you writing on the world? 

Some ideas...

  • Trappist gratitude practice: at the beginning of your daily formal practice session, think of a new and different thing to be grateful for. When the feeling of gratitude is strong and stable enough, you can use it for shamata practice in a radiating fashion similar to the brahma viharas (for me, gratitude has a pale gold color similar to mudita). Because this practice is consistently pleasant once you get the hang of it, it is an effective carrot to help make sitting practice habitual and habitually rewarding in a positive feedback loop. It is also an opportunity to practice creativity.
  • Mindfulness of the body and breath: the more clarity and ease of access you can get on these sensations using formal practices like satipatthana, anapanasati, yoga asana, martial arts, etc. the more it will carry over to informal practice in daily life. For example, in between tasks at work, you can briefly check in with physical sensations of the posture, making sure you are standing/sitting straight, releasing the jaw and doing a quick body scan for tension. If you can clearly feel the breath at many various points in the body, try to feel the blood pulsing through your abdominal aorta. If you can feel that, try for your liver. How quickly can you get to a "home base" of relaxed, good posture? When that gets easy, check in with the subtle energetic stuff. Try to see the relationship between what you notice in the body and what's going on in your surroundings.
  • Put a sticker or write something on your cell phone case to cue a 1 second metta practice every time you look at it. Can't retrieve the feeling of metta in 1 second? Then just notice what your current mind state is and if metta might be superior. Formal sitting metta practice will make it more easily accessible. Is metta strong, stable, and easy to access in 1 second? Try to hold onto it for as long as possible as you continue on with other tasks. Notice how all these seconds add up and rewire you over days, weeks, months.
  • "I'm not left-handed either..." Shift your perspective by brushing your teeth and performing other safe but continually more challenging manual tasks with your non-dominant hand. 
  • Vision: first notice that you are seeing, then practice noting flow (see Shinzen Young's "see out") and exploring parallax.
  • Auditory: bad, painful sounds that make you cringe make great vipassana objects. Examine your aversion. Tune into the fine vibrations and subtle harmonics of jackhammers and other construction noise, the bass lines of whatever music you can't stand, the voices of people you find difficult. Use sound to explore your sense of space.
  • Smell is often the sense we are least connected to in modern life and rarely the subject of meditation, but it is also be the most primal and evocative of memory. Spend a day living through your nose, noticing as many different smells as you can and paying attention to any memories that resurface. What effects does this have on you?
  • Explore your inner world of archetypes and shadow. Find your demons. Get to know and befriend them.
  • Daily quests: what things do you do every day that can be gamified for practice? Consider the ritual possibilities for bathing, where we might check in with intention. What do we want to get washed away? Every time we go to sleep, we might never wake (death meditations tend to be less insomnia-producing with regular practice). Every time we eat is an opportunity to contemplate interdependence.
  • Life on Hard Mode: Epictetus says, "If you are ever very thirsty, take a draught of cold water, spit it out, and tell no man." What are little things you can do to increase the challenge of life and thus spur a corresponding increase in your skill level?
Nicolas G, modified 5 Years ago at 5/20/18 10:12 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 5/20/18 9:42 AM

RE: gamify your practice

Posts: 27 Join Date: 1/4/18 Recent Posts
Thanks Andromeda, nice tips!

I've one, Hug people. Every time you have the change, give a warm and lovely hug. I find it as one of the best ways to express love&kindess phisically! and even better, if you have the time, with a relaxed hug try to syncronize and pay attention to your breath and the others body breath (with the belly-chest). The feeling of love will grow and grow...
Andromeda, modified 5 Years ago at 5/23/18 3:58 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 5/23/18 3:58 AM

RE: gamify your practice

Posts: 393 Join Date: 1/15/18 Recent Posts
Excellent, thank you.

I hated hugs as a small child and used to scream and bite like a feral animal. I was eventually hugged into submission by friendly Southerners and learned to like it but there was definitely an awkward phase of rigid, awkward hugs... Synchronization with the breath: the next frontier of hugging!
Tashi Tharpa, modified 5 Years ago at 5/23/18 5:06 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 5/23/18 5:06 AM

RE: gamify your practice

Posts: 244 Join Date: 4/4/18 Recent Posts
Another one: when moving through space, use objects as mindfulness markers.
Walking through the neighborhood: 'Can I stay 100 percent present until I reach that mailbox up ahead?' Once you reach that mailbox, pick a stop sign or something else 100 or 200 yards away. 'OK, now, to that sign.' Chunking objects in space like this seems to help me string together more moments of mindfulness when I'm out on a walk. I've done it on retreat as well when walking short little paths back and forth. You can do this while driving but of course you have to be super-careful! 

One that I've intended to try but never seem to get around to doing: Essentially going back to childhood and walking around pretending to be different characters. If your habit is to regard yourself as, say, a not-very-confident person who nonetheless has a great sense of humor, you could pretend to be Extremely Confident Person Who, Unfortunately, Lacks Any Sense of Humor.

Call it Vajrayana Lite. This is one of the cool things about acting, it seems to me. I would imagine that good actors end up with a more fluid sense of self after years of taking on different characters. 
Andromeda, modified 5 Years ago at 5/23/18 5:54 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 5/23/18 5:53 AM

RE: gamify your practice

Posts: 393 Join Date: 1/15/18 Recent Posts
Very cool! I think your going-back-to-childhood-to-be-somebody-else idea is a great one and I'd love to hear reports on that if you ever get around to it.

I've done various types of amateur theater off and on my whole life and gotten tons out of it. You get to try on not just a costume, but different mannerisms, accents, ways of walking, all that stuff that you usually think of as "you" but it's all incidental. The more different people (or even animals or gods or inanimate objects) that you play at being, the more fluid and spread out your own personality starts to seem and the better your improvisational skills become. When you think about it, everyone already does this to a lesser degree just by shifting between the various roles in our lives. We put on our Responsible Adult Costume and speak professionally while at work, wear different outfits and speak much less formally at home and with our closest friends, etc.

Consider the annual Carnival tradition which has been going on around the world for hundreds of years. People don masks and costumes and shed their usual identities in a reversal ritual while social rules and norms are suspended for a predetermined time. There's something cathartic and very freeing about stepping outside one's ordinary constraints. That release and shared bonding experience allows people to return to their usual lives and roles and ultimately reinforces the social order for the rest of the year.