Gamifying the Path
Purpose: To break down the Eightfold Path into concrete steps that can be implemented in an eight-month cycle with three rounds, which totals two years. Dedicate each month to making a deliberate effort to improve in a particular aspect of the path, starting with Right Action. Progress on the path in a spiral motion, returning to Right Action every eight months, but expanding the circle of concern in that aspect from self to close others to far others. After two years, return to the beginning, but formulate new actions based on present circumstances.
Theory: This project is similar to practices for character formation embedded in various world religions (i.e. Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim liturgical calendars) and personal philosophies (i.e. Benjamin Franklin’s thirteen virtues). In each instance, rather than focusing on always doing right in all areas, which can feel overwhelming, distinct times, places, and activities are designated to focus one’s energies on a particular area of development in a recurrent cycle.
Problem: Many of the focusing techniques of past eras are embedded within specific regional, ethnic, or religious cultures. Some people, myself included, feel cast adrift from those cultures, having left our childhood religions behind (or never having had one). Taking up Asian Buddhist rituals at this stage of my life feels superficial (for reasons I have written about elsewhere), even when they have been ‘Americanized,’ which has its own problems. Therefore, I prefer to forge my own system and to keep it simple, something I can follow as an individual.
Sharing: I share this here not in hope that anyone else will adopt it, but for two reasons. First, I hope it will keep me accountable. When I know I have to report on my progress to others (even if those others haven’t demanded such a report), I am more diligent. I have found this psychological mechanism useful in other areas of my life. Second, perhaps it will serve as an example of what is possible – that is, the development of our own systems for spiritual and personal growth. Perhaps someone else will be inspired to come up with their own system and share it and, perhaps, as a result we will see several such systems develop and be able to compare their relative efficacy for different people. The researcher in me would be fascinated by such a project.
The Noble Eightfold Path
- Right View
- Right Intention
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
Place in the Cycle
October: Right Action
Right Action is defined in several ways. First, according the precepts to abstain from violence, stealing, sexual misconduct, and use of intoxicants. Second, to abandon all evil actions and undertake all good actions, which includes cultivating a general awareness of which actions do and do not contribute to suffering. Third, the cultivation of virtues, especially those concerned with how we treat ourselves and others, such as kindness, compassion, and a general sense of care (or carefulness) for ourselves, others, objects, and the environment.
I have chosen to implement Right Action this month by showing care for my body and mind, taking actions that I know to alleviate suffering in the long run, abstaining from actions that I know to perpetuate suffering in the long run, and by cultivating a general virtue of kindness towards myself. When I take care of myself, I reduce my own stress and become more available to others. When I am compassionate and kind towards myself, I am also more likely to respond compassionately and kindly towards others. Kindness is not indulgent; in fact, true kindness requires a particular sort of diligence that only becomes easier when it is habitualized.
Round 1: Actions to care for the body and mind.
- Eat a healthy breakfast each work day before leaving the house.
- Drink 1 cup of coffee per day or less; green tea in the afternoon is okay.
- Do not drink soda or other sugary drinks; fruit juice is okay in moderation.
- Eat vegetarian at least five days a week.
- Exercise five days a week by walking/jogging with the dog at the park; intersperse with push-ups and pull-ups on the park exercise stations.
- Meditate at least five days a week.
- Do no work on Saturday; spend time with my partner, friends, and pets.
- Thank my body and mind for what it has done at least once a week through guided meditation or writing exercises.
Round 2: Actions to care for the home and family.
Round 3: Actions to care for the community and world.
November: Right Livelihood
Goal: Establish these actions as self-sustaining habits embedded into a fairly stable daily routine.
Accountability: Use a habit tracker to monitor progress and a journal to record positive or negative outcomes at the end of each week.
Transition: On the last day of each month, formulate the goals for the next month based on the next aspect in the Eightfold Path and the current round. Also, formulate the rounds for that aspect of the path as this system is being developed. Refine as necessary.