Mindfulness in gaming series 3: The Overstory

A character driven mystical novel about how trees really communicate with one another and the infinite complexity of nature


This book has come the closest to describing a mystical experience I myself had– which I think is nearly impossible to do since I think mystical experiences are ineffable.
But here’s the passage, which I think is simply beautiful. I don’t even think it needs any context.

A man in the boreal north lies on his back on the ground at down. his head extends from his one-man tent, facing upward. Five thin cylinders of white spruce register the breeze above him. Gravity is nothing. The evergreen tips stretch and scribble on the morning sky. He’s ever really thought about the many miles a tree travels, in smallest cursive increments, each hour of every day. Forever in motion, these stationary things.

The man with his head sticking out of the tent asks himself: What are those treetops like? They’re like the cog-toothed drawing toy, spinning out surprise patterns from the simplest nested cycles. They’re like the tip of a Ouija planchette, taking dictation from beyond. They are, in fact, like nothing but themselves. They are the crowns of five white spruces laden with cones, bending in the wind as they do every day of their existence. Likeness is the sole problem of men.

But the spruces pour out messages in media of their own invention. They speak through their needles, trucks, and roots. They cord in their own bodies the history of every crisis they’ve lived through. The man in the tent lies bathed in signals hundred of millions of years older than his crude senses. And still he can read them.

The five white spruces sign the blue air. They write: Light and Water and a little crushed stone demand long answers. Nearby lodge poles and jack pines demur: Long answers need long time. And long time is exactly what’s vanishing.

The black spruces down the drumlin put it bluntly: Warm is feeding on warm. The permafrost is belching. The cycle speeds up.

Farther south, broad leaves agree. Noisy aspens remnant birches, forests of cottonwood and poplars, take up the chorus: The world is turning a new thing.

The man rolls over onto his back, face-to-face with the morning sky. The messages swarm him. Even here, homeless, he thinks: Nothing will be the same.

The spruces answer: Nothing has even been the same.

We’re all doomed, the man thinks.

We have always all been doomed.

But things are different this time.

Yes, You’re here.

The man must rise and get to work, as the trees are already doing. His work is almost done. He’ll strike camp tomorrow, or the day after. But this minute, this morning, he watches the spruces writing and thinks, I wouldn’t need to be so very different for sun to seem to be about sun, for green to be about green, for joy and boredom and anguish and terror and death to all be themselves, beyond the need for any killing clarity, and then this- this, the growing right of light and water and stone– would take up all of me, and be all the words I need.

The Overstory, A Novel, Richard Powers

So it’s a character driven mystical book, based partly on the real life and research of Suzanne Simard— don’t get too attached to anything. Richard Powers kills more darlings than George RR Martin. But this book has a narrative and a character that has helped me reconcile my own link between a digital and physical love of nature. I’ve pondered before on how I could be so attracted to the digital when I also have a deep love and enjoy spending time in real, unfiltered nature / creation and how my role models include nature loving mystics like St. Francis of Assisi, Rumi, Buddha, and Christ.

20 minute TED talk but the stories about grizzly bear escapes and the revelations about how forest trees communicate make it worth it for sure.

The latest issue of WIRED magazine also ran a small feature on The Overstory, mentioning Suzanne Simard’s work.

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Mindfulness in gaming series 2: That Dragon, Cancer

How do you make a mindful game out of saying goodbye to your child with a terminal illness?

Continuing our series, I’m shifting gears away from myself and my own reality to examine another familys’ struggle. Before my first craniotomy to remove my metastatic melanoma brain tumor, a friend told me something odd but honest “John, the good thing is, is that this is happening to you.” It may seem like something odd for a dear friend to say to another going through brain surgery and cancer but he was right– his point was that it was not happening to either of my children– Will or Mina. But what if it had? There is an “game or experience or whatever-you’d-like-to-call-it” out there that showcases what happens when a child goes through a terminal illness: cancer. The name of that game is That Dragon, Cancer. And I’ll be discussing the game, the game’s subject, Joel Green, and the follow-up showcase documentary: Thank you for Playing, which gives in inside look into the Green family’s struggles and Ryan Green’s families’ and teams’ role in the production of the game while managing his child’s terminal illness.
This is a heavy subject and will be a heavy post. If you’re in vulnerable location, it might be best to read this post later.

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Mindfulness in gaming series 1: Why games make Us better and How they Can Change the World

Reality is Broken: Why games make Us better and How they Can Change the World

Reality is Broken: Why games make Us better and How they Can Change the World

…I’m healthy enough to get back to my ponderings.

I’ve been mulling this over for a while and I’m like to have a multi-part series on mindfulness and gaming (digital and non-ditigal). For the first part I’d like to share a book I read soon after my seizure called Reality is Broken (why games make us better and how they can change the worldby Jane Mccgonigal).

Cover of Reality is Broken by Jane McConigal (Why games make us Better and how they can Change the World)


For me, the title alone caused me to gravitate to it. As I’ve shared previously, the concept of my life (and death) went through a heavy overhaul after the seizure.

Why go into a topic like mindfulness and games– two subjects that seem at odds with one another? For me personally, I’d really like to reconcile my own gravitation to both. I think each is can be immensely helpful and both have helped me significantly in my own journey of healing, thus far.
On one hand, I have my love of nature through historical figures and some of my own mystical experiences. I’ve written before about how St. Francis and his unique bond with nature and how there is something mystical about dying slowly outside (St. Francis, Christ, and Marcus Aurelius are good examples) On the other hand, I still really enjoy games (digital and non-digital) and, the environment, the challenge, and the happiness they bring me– how do those fit together? For one thing, when you’re playing a game you are never alone. I’ve heard a game defined as

Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.

Bernard Suits

When you’re playing a game (even solo) you’re engaging with the designer of the game, people who have played the game before you, and in a way people who will play after you (think about high scores and leader boards.) This helps with the problem of the paradox of self-help (which I’ll get into later). After a lot of thought and reading, I have my own ideas but it’ll take a few posts to hash it all out. Not all of these posts will be easy to read, but some (like this one) will.

Part of my interest also came from a podcast I’d heard here as a guest on. If interested, I believe it was the Tim Ferriss podcast, link here.

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The Hard Road Ahead

It’s been a while since my last update or blog post.

This is mostly an update. Sorry no picture for this post.

While Christmas approaches we have been through a lot and are about to go through a lot more.

I was in the hospital last week for brain swelling. It’s the worst I’ve looked and felt through this entire experience. I lost feeling on most of the left side of my body. I couldn’t use my left hand (I’m left handed). Hand-writing and daily tasks became extremely difficult. I needed a STAT MRI which showed radiation necrosis swelling in my brain. It was significant enough that it was pushing on the other side of my brain and creating another mass-shift– disrupting the center line of the two brain sides of the brain. The results were the same “whooshing migrate” headaches I felt in April 2019 but also the loss of strength on the left side of my body. This included my face. Paige said it looked like I had been to the dentist. I had slowly noticed this happening but I had conflated it with another issue (taper off of another drug). After my MRI result discussion I was directed to increase my steroid intake, which should also help with the control of the left side of my body. Unfortunately, by this time the swelling was so bad it was causing serve nausea and I couldn’t even hold down water. So every time I took medicine I threw it up. At an appointment at the cancer center they took a look at me and sent me to the hospital for IV fluids and IV steroids. In the meantime they made me an appointment at Wake Forest Hospital for a surgical consult about a less invasive procedure to remove the dead brain tissue from the necrosis, which would stop the swelling. The appointment was set for Monday 12/14/20. I would have to improve by then.

To review, in June 2019 I received stereotatic radiation treatment to my brain to kill any remaining cancer cells possibly left there after my tumor removal surgery. One possible side effect is necrosis, or dead brain tissue. We’ve since learned it appears 15-18 months after treatment which falls in this window. My radiation oncologist said I appeared to be a “text-book” case of necrosis.
It’s not cancer but it does have its own serious issues that need to be handled. We known that I would probably need to have a procedure to remove this tissue but previous appointments were optimistic that this procedure could wait until a various time in 2021, possibly after COVID numbers went down. At the same time they also proposed a less invasive procedure called Auto-LITT that showed a potentially incredible recovery time. Two of my doctors recommended Wake Forrest for the procedure. A consult was set up for next Monday 12/14/20.
My hospital admission was set up with the express goal of getting me healthy enough in time to a surgical consult at Wake Forrest to evaluate me for this procedure.

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