I am staring with horror at my iPad; my partner in online Scrabble has just laid down a seven letter word that covers two triple word scores for a gazillion points; I slam the cover shut, muttering that I don’t want to play the stupid game anymore. Then I pause to observe my reaction; it seems positively childish; what had triggered such a strong reaction? I sit and reflect and realize that this was not the only time in recent history that I had felt this desire to abandon a game in the face of defeat. I began a reflection on what appeared to be a recent pattern in my life.
Those who follow these ramblings may recall a previous occasion when I referred to another online game in which I had become engaged called the Hobbit. It is a harmless little strategy game based on the book and movie, balancing resources to build a village and forces to protect it. I had enjoyed watching my village grow. To defend it I built this enormous wall with such exciting weapons as trebuchets, crossbows, caltrops and buried traps. I felt invincible until one morning I came back to the game and I had been demolished by an enemy much larger than myself who had barely suffered a scratch. I was angry, mortified, and confused. I dashed of a message to the leader of the alliance I had joined to say, “this is a stupid game, and I am going to quit.”
As I reflected on the two events, I realized they remind me of playing with a small child, who once they get behind want to give up. The phrase, ‘I am taking my ball and going home” is a familiar one and is generally considered to represent poor sportsmanship.I did some research and discovered that this generally happens with kids four and five years old. Great! At sixty-eight I am developing the behaviours of a four year old. How humiliating is that? However it presented a mystery to be explored. I had not reacted like this for decades, why now? I am sufficiently familiar with complexes engaging that I could see the “charged cluster of history that emerges into a present situation but brings energy from the past that is often inappropriate to the situation.” (James Hollis). These reactions stem from the child’s perception of feeling powerless in a powerful world and that it was about feeling overwhelmed.
So I emailed James Hollis and asked his opinion. His generous reply was precise and to the point, Yes, it is one of the many tributaries arising out of the threat of overwhelment, with its attendant powerlessness. It is a means of avoiding that powerful “other.” I could see that my reaction was a form of avoiding my opponent who in that moment became the powerful other. I continued to be curious about why now? This was an early coping mechanism that rapidly became socially unacceptable so as I grew older I learned to deal with it in other ways. I identified three: one was to revert to cheating to win. (For a brief moment I had considered consulting an online Scrabble resource to create one of those absurd words that few human beings had ever heard of.) A second response was to be “a good sport” (compliance) and the third was to get extremely aggressive and combative with desire for revenge. (control) Each of these of course are other tributaries and have been subjects of earlier exploration.
Over the past few years I have been given the gift of exploring numerous complexes and suspect that each opens the door to another. They have helped me appreciate the amazing complexity of the human journey and are frequently relevant to spiritual coaching. Recently while listening to James Hollis’s inspiring audio book “Through The Dark Wood” he observed, “Something is trying to come into being – it is about serving who we are meant to be. The cosmos has always depended on the soul’s embodiment through you the individual.” I am no longer at the mercy of these unconscious impulses and I realize how liberated it feels to free these behaviours from the shadow and give them light.