Almost Composed

Meditation and curiosity

What Elden Ring is teaching me about stoicism and perseverance

August 29, 2022

On a ruined bridge high above the desolate Lands Between, Margit, the Fell Omen, stood between me and Stormveil Castle once again. The stakes were high: I’d spent £50 on a game months ago and a 20ft death-dealing guardian had seriously diverted my progress away from the main path. I had bounced off Dark Souls III after a similar experience. But this time I felt more confident. What had once seemed impossible was now a matter of persistence…

It may seem that From Software, the game’s designers, are straightforwardly sadistic. I mean why else would you place such a difficult boss right at the start of a game? We’re talking about a battle far tougher than the final scenes of many other games. The doubt sets in: if it’s this hard now I’ll have no chance later. Isn’t it good pedagogy to start learners on the baby slopes and ramp up the difficulty gently? Well, maybe. And maybe not. That’s because tough challenges are an excellent way to ensure that a student has grokked the concepts needed to master a skill. Had Margit been a pushover, I wouldn’t have been forced to magically summon skeletal militiamen to fight beside me (a true life skill). My dodge rolls would have remained sloppy. I wouldn’t have understood the need to preserve stamina to escape wicked counterattacks. Against this kind of challenge it becomes impossible to progress until skills that will be vital later are more or less in place.

Life is no different. It’s certainly blocked some of the roads I’d planned to travel. I’ve wondered how far is possible to progress a meditator in the midst of the distractions and catastrophes of a busy family and professional life. However, as the title of Ryan Holiday’s book says, The Obstacle Is the Way. Would we gain the patience, the diversity of meditative skills, the gumption, grit, compassion, the willingness to embrace life as it is, the knowledge of what puts the fire out and what is just a nice idea—would we have any of this, to the extent that we do—had life been straightforward, all bliss and no hiccups?

No doubt the game will get harder from here but I think I now have the mechanics and mindset it’s asking for. And when life places obstacles in my path, perhaps I’ll remember Margit, the Fell Omen, and everything he unwillingly taught me… then unsheathe my blade.

categories: philosophy, reflections
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