©2008 by Donna Cunningham
With several planets in Gemini, meditation is a stretch for me. Instead, when I’m mentally overworked, there are two ways of quieting the ceaseless chatter of that grasshopper mind. One is to work crossword puzzles. The other is to play solitaire, sometimes for an hour at a time. From crossword puzzles, there’s little of importance to be learned, though I do get to exercise my astonishing vocabulary of absolutely arcane terms…those apt yet unfamiliar words editors tactfully excise from my writings.
From solitaire, however, I’ve learned important spiritual lessons, including several I’m grateful not to have to learn the hard way. There’s that bit about planning ahead and spotting the obstacles, rather than just winging it, useful for one who tends to live too far much on instinct. Though my instincts about timing for a move in my career or personal life are good, there’s still room for judicious strategy and making an end run around obstacles. One encounters fewer brick walls that way.
But I also learned that the opposite is true. There’s a time when I play and play until I’m no longer paying attention at all, and at that point my wins increase greatly. It’s a point of being in the zone, or maybe of being completely zoned out. Though they sound like opposites, they’re pretty much the same thing.
My favorite game—Beleaguered Castle—is almost impossible to win. The program cites odds of one game in 10. Why play a game I can’t win? It’s relaxing. When I grasp that it’s pointless to pressure myself to succeed, I finally stop trying. Driven individual that I am, my life has been all about trying…and succeeding, especially against odds as steep as those. But relaxing? Not so much.
I play Beleaguered Castle to get into a state where the thinking stops and the mouse on my computer is in charge, with a little assist from the wrist. I fly through game after game until the I is no longer present, only the next move. I gradually stop noticing how many games I’ve won.
And suddenly I’m startled to discover that rather than only one game in 10, I’ve won six or seven. I’ve even, on one or two occasions, won 10 out of 10, though that was accompanied by a complete though fleeting loss of a sense of a personal existence. You know, it’s like when you reel up the movie aisle after a thrilling three hour epic, and you no longer know who you are or what universe you dwell in.
Another lesson from various forms of Solitaire is not to quit the game until it’s over. So often the deck seems stacked against me—an Ace buried so deeply under a long numerical string of cards that it seems impossible to win. But I’ve learned to keep playing, focusing on stacks elsewhere. Suddenly, through the auto-play option, all the cards in the way fly off into a completed stack. There’s my ace! I’m learning not to assume I know how things will turn out, because every move is connected to all the other moves in some manner not apparent to me but no less valid.
If you’re at all like me—a lifelong failure at disciplines like meditation or sitting in contorted positions—then perhaps solitaire would serve as an ersatz spiritual practice. Ersatz? That’s a word borrowed from German, and Merriam Webster Online says it usually denotes an artificial and inferior substitute or imitation. So maybe that’s not the precise term, but you’ll have to excuse me—after writing this, I need to go play some solitaire.