Who would have thought it? Chess as a form of meditation? Well, according to my search engine results, quite a few people have thought about it already. One can look at meditation as preparation for playing chess. One can look at the game as an opportunity to detach and clear the mind; chess as meditation practice. I’m sharing my experience of the second approach here.
I hadn’t played chess for many years until a couple of months ago, when my husband and I began a nightly game or two. It’s a great focus exercise and escape from the superficial stuff on TV or the internet. My husband used to play tournament chess long ago when in school. I had just played with my siblings and with friends when I was young. And no, neither of us had played against a computer. 😉
The Pain of Losing
As we began playing, I noticed I was dealing with negative emotions during the game. This is so silly! I thought. One is supposed to try to win, of course, but I could feel that fire of frustration in my belly and constriction in my throat when I found myself on the defensive, especially if it happened early in a game. I felt trapped.
I remember this feeling; goes back to childhood playing board games, particularly with one of my brothers. We were always competitive as children, he and I. I noticed that whenever we played any game for a while that there would come a time when I couldn’t beat him anymore. My frustration came from always losing and losing quickly. I never had a chance once he’d mastered a game.
So, here I am, some fifty or so years later, getting triggered, in spite of all my inner work and practice with loving detachment. This just goes to show that embedded emotional responses never disappear entirely; we just learn to respond to them (along with everything else) differently.
So, no temper tantrums or refusal to play because of this feeling, like I used to have. Progress! But what to do with this feeling, which was making the quality time with hubby a lot less enjoyable? And hubby is not playing any ego games or gloating over his wins, by the way. All this nonsense is going on just in my own head.
My Meditative Approach
When I get this frustration feeling, I stop focusing on the game and breathe. I then return my gaze to the board with fresh eyes, looking for all the possible opportunities and challenges in that one move.
My goal is not to see more than three moves ahead for any potential move of mine. Not a professional approach, but this is recreational chess, folks. It’s more like I’m absorbing the current state of the board and all the possibilities right now. That’s all I need.
My goals for any given move are as follows:
- Make it interesting—if hubby takes extra time to make his move after mine, then I have succeeded. He really likes this rule and says that’s why playing with me is so great.
- Don’t dally—occasionally I’ll slow down, but I find the game more fun if I don’t try to see all the details so I can make a move in a reasonable amount of time to keep the game in flow. Four-hour games are no fun!
- Be bold and curious—I find this quite freeing. I’ll make an attack move without worrying about long-term consequences. Just do it and see what happens!
- Take risks—At first when I played, I’d be on the defensive all the time, trying to keep as many pieces in play as possible. This risk-averse method actually makes the game too complex and hard on the brain. Clearing out some pieces, and even willingly sacrificing my own (including the Queen), makes for a “cleaner” game, win or lose. I also find this no-fear approach very calming.
The really woo-woo fascinating thing about taking this meditative approach is that I get to practice detachment and then apply it elsewhere in life when that frustrating feeling shows up. I can calmly take more risks in being direct and authentic with communication and dealing with life challenges. It doesn’t feel like the end of the world if I’m not pleasing, defending, explaining.
It also helps that my husband takes a similar approach to the game and doesn’t take things personally if he’s losing or project his mistakes onto me. It’s a quiet and friendly game environment. He sets an excellent example for me to practice with.
So, find yourself a good friend or relation to try this out on. I think it does work best with a strategy game like chess or checkers, rather than games where chance is more involved (Monopoly or other dice-driven games). See how you can free up your emotional insides and apply this meditative method to daily life.
It really does make the game and life more fun for me. 🙂