Transcendence through Second Life

If these are good news, here come more good news. If you start seriously doing this all the time in SL, you will, for starters, be seen as a very friendly, happy person, and gather a good reputation of being someone well-balanced. Ironically, we feel attracted to those kinds of people. Don’t worry if it looks like you’re “always in control of your emotions” when in fact you’re seething with anger all the time (or crying over your keyboard). Nobody knows what goes inside your mind. Remember that this is pretty much what all those spiritual masters are actually doing — they’re fully experiencing the whole range of strong and violent emotions, they just choose not to act according to them. But we don’t see that, we just see their friendly expressions and the smile. The ability to detach yourself from your strong emotions and just behave in a functional, rational way is amazingly attractive. And, in SL, you can do that — while still kicking chairs or using up your storage of tissue paper.

And finally, the better news. There are lots of methods to accomplish the same results, and not all work for all people in the same way. The important here is to find a method that works for you, and practise it daily. Those Buddhist monks smiling at you will probably have learned dozens of techniques, all of them involving methods to observe thoughts and emotions with close attention, but not all techniques will work on all of them. They will probably have picked one that worked for them and have stuck to it. Whatever the method, all of them rely on our brain’s amazing ability to be trained by getting its neural paths rewired; it gets easy — like driving a car — with constant repeating. So the trick of reading the text chat, waiting until the anger or sadness subsides, and answering only then is just another method. If you train it long enough you will be able to do that in real life as well. Now that’s amazing, but it’s not “magic”: you just get some training to be unconditioned from emotions in “a minute” or “a few seconds”, but, over time, you can do it in less and less time. One day you’ll suddenly realise, in the middle of a RL discussion, that you don’t really need to yell back: you can observe your anger, and, in a few seconds, just like you do in SL with text chat, refuse to react in a typical, aggressive way. The interesting thing is that this will happen, sooner or later, depending on how seriously you engage in this kind of practice.

I have actually found a lot of residents like that. When they were very new in SL, they were unusually furious at everybody, always angry, always creating drama, always insulting others and hurting them with offensive words. As time went by, they started to change. They still made snarky comments, but these were less frequent. Often I asked them what happened, why they didn’t answer back as usual, and they just told me: “oh, what’s the point, I got furious, but it was worthless to type”. After a few years in SL people started changing their opinions about them — not always for the best, mind you, because it’s impossible to change people’s perception about yourself; some thought that they became more cunningly clever, more cold and calculating… but the truth is that this was just a result of expecting them to be insulting and offensive all the time, and finding it so strange that these people just stopped acting (or, rather, reacting) as they expected them to behave, that they simply thought it was a devious trick. But in reality it was just a result of “thinking twice” before reacting. And this simple popular method, “think twice before you answer”, actually leads to very positive results: it makes people around you more happy because you don’t get angry at them so often 🙂

And when that starts to happen regularly, you mind does change. It’s like starting to wear a mask, fully aware that it is a mask. “I’m now wearing the mask of a sensible, reasonable, calm, peaceful person. I know it’s just a mask. But who cares, I know that deep inside I’m still furious/sad. I just won’t let that interfere in my reactions towards others”. But in time, like I said, it will be very hard to say what is a mask and what is that so-called “true self” which is so hard to pin-point. You’re just wearing masks, after all, and replacing the “furious mask” by the “calm and peaceful mask”. Which one is more functional? Having enemies all over the place, angry at you, scorning or ostracising you — or actually people who are happy because you don’t yell at them all the time? Personally, I much rather prefer the latter approach.

So, while I’m not sure if you can achieve “transcendence” through SL, or “enlightenment”, or whatever spiritual state you prefer, I’m quite sure that at least you can enhance awareness. Not in the mystical sense of the word: but in the more literal meaning. You can become more aware of what you feel and react in an unconditioned way to those feelings. You can learn to observe what goes on in your mind, and make choices in a rational way, instead of being a slave to your emotions. And of course you can continue to fully enjoy your emotions — some might even claim that you can enjoy them more fully, because you’re paying close attention to them. SL allows all that, and it makes it rather easy; and since it benefits you and others (because you won’t make them so angry as before), I think it’s a quite good step towards a better world.

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