Chess Consciousness

When I was a kid my little brother taught me the rules of chess. The first time we played he won. I made a resolution never to let that happen again, so I started to learn chess by reading books and playing at school. Twenty eight years later I’m still playing and I’m rather good at it. Now I teach chess at Mullen High School and at elementary schools to make some extra cash.

Chess has always been used as a metaphor for war and life. Today I am proposing that chess is also a great metaphor for growth in consciousness.

I’ve studied thousands of chess games played by professional grandmasters. When I first started doing this every move from start to finish seemed like magic, miraculous even. I just couldn’t understand how they used the same wooden pieces so differently. I attributed to these players powers that they just never had, and I imagined their skills far out of my reach.

As I grew in my understanding and my skills matured I began to understand the principles that ruled the game and I began to see common patterns emerging from the scattered pieces on the board. I began to have “magical” games of my own creation and the game became more natural and less mysterious, less supernatural.

Today I play chess against strong coffee house players and I join a tournament every now and then. Whenever I repeatedly lose to an opponent I gain a renewed sense of magic and miracle. “How did he do that? What just happened here? How did I lose?” I feel like a novice again. It’s quite humbling.

But I know now that this player has no magic, performs no miracle, and does not possess a secret formula for winning. He has more chess consciousness. Chess is a game that is played with awareness, NOT the mind. It is not really a game of the mind at all, it’s a game of the soul played through intuition and memory not thought and logic. Well at least good chess players play that way. 

It is possible to play chess with the mind/ego but most people who play that way don’t play it for very long, since their ego swells at the slightest error,  which leads to bigger mistakes, then anger, and then a loss, and then more anger. You see it all the time at chess clubs.

People that play chess better than me on a consistent basis have better chess awareness. Let me explain with a non-chess example.

One day I was out for a walk with my kids. A pizza delivery car drove by and Timmy, then only two and a half said, “Look! Car!” and we all said, “Very good Timmy! That IS a car!” As the car pulled into our neighbors driveway my daughter Maya, then five years old said, “Looks like Cody and Imana are having pizza for dinner tonight.” I laughed and said, “Looks as though, Maya!”

Timmy was correct, and Maya was correct. The difference in their statement was their level of consciousness. I could take it a step further and say, “I know that one of those pizzas is gluten free.” Cody and Imana’s mom has an allergy.

We grow in consciousness all the time, but this is not to be confused with knowledge. Some people read a thousand chess books and have all kinds of chess knowledge but they are terrible players. These players are always on chess websites asking which books to read next, as if there is one magic book out there that will make the click in their brain and they will become masters of the game. So how does one grow in chess consciousness? Here’s how:

When I beat a student at chess I hear this comment a lot: “I play much better when I’m not playing you. I think I’m nervous.” My reply is usually, “You may be nervous, but that’s not why you lost. You lost because you made poor moves and I know how to take advantage of them. The weaker opponents you play let you get away with your mistakes, I do not.” By their loss they feel like they are getting worse at chess, not better, but the opposite is true. I am showing them their chess unconsciousness, and now they have a choice to make. One, give up their growth in egoic sadness or, two, learn from the loss, even if it is painful.

So in chess, as in life, we Have the choice to grow in consciousness with every failure and loss. Let me say that again.

In chess, as in life, we have the choice to grow in consciousness with every failure and loss.

That is why there really aren’t any good or bad situations, in life or in chess. If I win or succeed I find satisfaction and pleasure but learn nothing. If I lose or fail I find dissatisfaction and displeasure but I learn everything. Life cannot be always one or the other, so I have to learn to accept the gift life (and chess) offers me in the moment. 

The key to playing chess well is never to hope for one outcome over another. I must learn that a painful loss is a success in growth and a win is a pleasurable success in the game. I have to find a way to be sincerely happy with either outcome and play the game just because I love it, because it is beautiful, because it is!

The key to living well is the same. I must never hope for happiness all the time, or I will cease to grow. I must never hope to grow all the time, I will miss the pleasures in life. I need to find a way to be sincerely happy with either outcome, pleasurable or painful, and just play the game of life because I love it, because it is beautiful, because it is!

Here’s an odd thought. Imagine giving the latest Apple device to a ninety year old. At first, perhaps, they would fear it, or at least fear breaking it. Then they would accept it but assure you that they have no use for it. After a short while they may be able to use it as a phone and that’s it. They are satisfied. No more growth.

What if Steve Jobs himself resurrected from the dead to teach them how to use the phone. Imagine how strange he would sound to them at first! “What do you mean I can watch TV on this thing! Gertrude get this, Steve here is telling me I can watch TV on my phone!” says Bill, a WWII vet. “You watch TV on a TV Steve, not on a phone. Who’d want to watch TV on that tiny screen anyway.” says Gertrude, Bills girlfriend from the south wing. “He also says it can take pictures and you can send them through the air to anyone with a phone or computer Gertrude.” “You take pictures with cameras Steve, and I’ve been sending pictures through the air for sixty years Bill, it’s called the U.S. Post office.”

But then once the people saw Steve use the phone for a while they might think he was a miracle worker, but really he just has more consciousness regarding the phone. They could do those amazing things too if they only took the time to learn.

What if Jesus is like Steve Jobs in my little story, and he came to teach us about our true nature, and all its powers. We thought him crazy but then we saw his works and called them miracles, but really the only difference between us is his level of consciousness regarding our nature. We could do those amazing miracles too if we only took the time to learn. Now I really want to kill my ego!

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