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Weather Zen and the Solitary Walk: Attending to Each Step As It Comes

weather-zenA Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive. “I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived.”

~From Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors

Designed by the conscious, deliberative team at Krellware,Weather Zen invites players to seek the restorative balance of the elements and predict weather patterns and events, in a quest to correct the material excesses of a planet’s previous irresponsible stewards. The game was inspired in part by the tragic death of designer Dale Strickler’s wife and two daughters in 2007. A Kickstarter campaign, which you should definitely support, has been launched to get the game off the ground.

Dale Strickler, team leader of Weather Zen, has been studying the teachings of Zen for most of his life. But what is the “Zen” in Weather Zen?  Zen is a largely non-doctrinal school of Buddhism favoring direct experience, teaching at an interpersonal level, and application of the Buddha’s teaching for the benefit of humanity. Among the many facets of Zen teaching and practice are notions of introspection, a backward step, a turning-about, and a “turning the eye inward” in the process of rediscovery. These are largely solitary practices. There is quietness about them, and a letting go of others.

The noise of the world can be, at the least, oppressive, and at the worst, traumatic. In simple everyday life, as Leo Babauta writes in “The Empty Container,”

Our lives get so complicated not overnight but gradually.

The complications creep up on us, one insignificant step at a time.

Today I order something online, tomorrow someone gives me a gift, then I get a free giveaway, then I decide I need some new tools. One item at a time, the clutter accumulates, because I’m not constantly purging the old.

Today I say yes to an email request, tomorrow I say yes to a party invitation, then I get asked to a quick cup of coffee, then I decide to be a part of a project. One yes at a time, and soon my life is full and I don’t know how I got so busy.

In its more serious manifestations, the crowding out of individual reflection by the business of industrial civilization can take the form of collective trauma: crime, political vitriol, terrorism, war and the build-up to war, all traumatic events that affect large groups of individuals, even entire nations or international communities.

Zen tells us that we may free ourselves –perhaps not completely, but in the ways which we can– from trauma by realizing that our mental states, like the world around us, are ever-changing, without any fixed or predetermined outcome, and that we can work to attain such a mental state through acknowledging and existing in balance with the forces around us. The Indian spiritual teacher Osho once wrote:

A monk said to Tozan: “You always tell learners to take the way of the birds. What is the way of the birds?

Tozan said, “You meet nobody on it.”

The monk then asked, “How can we go on this way?”

Tozan answered, “By egolessness, attending to each step as it comes.”

Obviously, there is not a complete “letting go” in Weather Zen. Players have a goal, a defense against external threats, and a long-term strategy. They use tools instrumentally. But the game begins with the solitary walk. The world is out of balance, because powerful beings made bad choices. But the response of the player to that disruption is the solitary walk. Ben Eva at pixel dynamo explains it this way: “The player’s task is to navigate through this world, with the hope of gaining a better understanding of the weather and eventually returning balance to the elements.”

In addition to being solitary, the monk is female, in a male-dominated order. She knows that her survival is tied to the survival of the entire planet Aqun, and in turn, that survival depends on the restoration of balance between elements. The solutions require meditative deliberation rather than reactionary violence, and this suggests a pulling back from the noise of the crowd. The game is designed in such a way as to acknowledge the indeterminate state of the universe, in that each approach to the challenges of the game results in different experiences and scoring, and no single approach will always work.

One slogan of the game expresses the difference between proactive control and going with the flow: “No one can predict the weather, but can you endure it?” Like the old man who survived the river rapids by allowing himself to be shaped by the motion of the water, the successful players in Weather Zen will allow their choices to be shaped by the moves and motions of the elements. This letting go is tied to the careful contemplation, the monk’s solitary journey, and the quiet-but-focused contemplation of the weather patterns forming in the distance.

You can help Krellware advance this restorative, contemplative game by supporting Weather Zen‘s Kickstarter campaign here.

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