Spoiler Warning

If you haven’t seen the series Squid Game you may want to skip this article, as it reveals spoilers to the story.

By now most everyone has heard of Netflix’s series Squid Game. The series is ultra violent, shocking, and incredibly dramatic. At a glance one might wonder what spiritual lessons are found in the dark tapestry of a story that brings human suffering into the same level of a meat factory. Yet lessons abound. The greatest lesson for me was the lesson of the Old Man.

The Old Man in the story is introduced as a sad character, passing into dementia. If you watch closely, you’ll notice that while everyone else is scared and panicked with looming death at every turn, the Old Man always has a big smile on his face during the deadly contests.

We assume the Old Man smiles because he has lost his mind. If you pick up on the clues though, you’ll grasp the end before it’s given. As it turns out, the Old Man runs the deadly contest. The main character, Seong, discovers in the last episode that the Old Man has been running the violent sport.

Seong asks why he would enter the game as a contestant? It seems such a crazy thing to do. The Old Man tells us that he really is dying of a brain tumor. He wanted to reunite with his childhood and join a team in the fight for life and death. But more than that, he says something profound:

I wanted to become a participant rather than a spectator.

When life is seen this way, where we chose to become a willing participant, we become mindful of each moment. Life is like a game, and we ride the highs and lows as they come. However, this is state of mind is not common. The common state is to think of life from the role as an unwilling participant.

If we look at life as “happening to us,” then we struggle against forces that seem far greater than we can manage. It’s as though we’re dragged by our feet to our very doom. Like the clawing participants in the game, running for freedom and dying terribly, our lives are lived in fear, anxiety and depression.

This is a sad commentary on modern life. There are those who detach from the unwilling participant by becoming an observer. The observer is one who meditates and steps away consciously from the reactive nature. In this state things come and things go. There is no grasping, everything is allowed and we bend with the winds of change.

That is a very valid path, and one that is found in many Eastern schools of thought.

The Old Man did something different. After years of being an observer, he switched his role to becoming an active participant. Similar to the initial stage, but transformed completely, the Old Man willingly accepted his role with a grin.

From this choice one lives consciously and makes progress through enjoying each sacred moment – each precious present moment.

Three stages of living life have now been discussed:

  • unwilling participant
  • willing observer
  • willing participant

In that order is how the spiritual path seems to expand our vision. The mundane mind is attached, and unwilling to accept pain and suffering. It is the unwilling participant. Finding a spiritual path, we detach from the ego needs and become a conscious observer. Then, in that space of observance, we can re-integrate our sense of Self… the Higher observer with the Lower mundanity, to become the True Self. The True Self becomes the willing participant, smiling in the face of each moment, regardless if it is interpreted as painful, joyful or death itself.


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