The Frustration of Whac-A-Mole

By Anthony Gold

I spent one summer during my high-school years living and working at the beach. It was Ocean City, MD – a wonderful resort town near the northeastern part of Maryland. I got a job working in an arcade, and my two primary responsibilities were to exchange quarters for dollars for the games and to sell cigarettes.

I was good at the former and terrible at the latter. In fact, I was fired because I told each prospective cigarette customer that smoking was bad for their health. My boss said that my job was just to sell tobacco and give coins, not to dispense advice – and especially not to turn away potential revenue. So, I was terminated after a couple weeks on the job.

One of the perks of working in an arcade is unlimited after-hours access to the games – even if it only lasts a few weeks. That was how I learned to beat Dragon’s Lair – the world’s first laserdisc video game. But one of the games I never beat was Whac-A-Mole. It was unbeatable.

Each time you smack down one mole, another one pops up. It never ends. The faster you eliminate one mole, the more quickly new moles appear. It got so frustrating that I stopped playing entirely. Who wants to play a game you can never win?

Yet, that’s exactly what we do every moment that we believe we can excel in the world.

We believe the world holds things of value for us: money, respect, attention, companionship, prestige, experiences, and fulfillment.

But in order to achieve our goals, we just need to surmount this one obstacle. Once I get a college degree. Once I find a loving partner. Once I get through this health issue. Once I get to this point in my career. Once my kids grow up. Once the stock market hits this level. And so on, ad infinitum.

There is never a shortage of stumbling blocks. As soon as we get through one, another one (or two or ten) arise. Just like the Whac-A-Mole game – as soon as we smack one down, others pop-up in a never-ended, incredibly frustrating sequence.

We’ve all had the experience of obtaining something that we thought would make us happy – only to soon realize that the joy didn’t last long. Either the particular thing wasn’t what we thought it would be – or something else came up in our life that changed our fleeting definition of happiness.

In no situation that arises do you realize the outcome that would make you happy. Therefore, you have no guide to appropriate action, and no way of judging the result. What you do is determined by your perception of the situation, and that perception is wrong. (W-pI.24.1)

The world was made that problems could not be escaped. (T-31.IV.2)

That’s the trouble with the world – it seems to offer us what we want, but we’re consistently disappointed. The moles keep popping up.

But that’s the world from the ego’s perspective.

There is another way of living in the world in which we can be consistently joyous and the moles no longer have any power to take away our peace. What the Course refers to as the real world – an experience where we smile more frequently, our forehead is serene, and our eyes are quiet.

Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll explore this real world and learn how we can ultimately avoid the Whac-a-Mole frustration. I look forward to seeing you then.

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