Saturday, February 15, 2020

Go as Meditation

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going to the Midwest Go Open in Delaware, Ohio.  I was shocked by how many people turned out!  Finding 40 some odd Go players, let alone getting them in the same room, is quite the feat.  I got to see other Go players I hadn’t seen for years.  Towards the end of the week, I headed to the bar with a friend of mine, Ben.  I find that during Go tournaments, I have the best philosophical conversations.  Ben and I talked about what is the actual distinction between a 3 dan, 5 dan, 7 dan player.  Part of it is attitude.  Ben made a great observation.  He said that lower ranked dan players have less focus than higher ranked players.  He noted this when he saw a 1 dan Japanese professional play in the U.S. Open, she had laser like focus on the game.  When she played, she poured herself into every move.  I thought I would try it myself the next day. 

The next morning, I sat down to play my third game of the tournament.  I decided that I would make it a goal to remain utterly focused on my game.  I immediately recognized that my attention would wander.  When waiting for my opponent to play, I would look at my neighbor's board and see how things were going. My eyes would wander.  I would remember the lyrics to a rap battle I had listened to earlier in the week.  I’d fidget and think about how cold the room was.  

I realized that my lack of attention was wasting precious time.  Did I really have the game so well in hand I could afford to not pay attention? Instead of letting my mind wander to the next extraneous object, I instead gently pushed myself back to the game.  Every second I spent looking at my neighbor's board position, watching the ceiling, or humming a tune in my head, was one second I was not spending on the here and now, the board in front of me.   

I decided to just gently bring my mind back to the game every time my eyes would wander.  It shocked me just how unfocused on the game I was!  It was hard at first, but I started to force myself to use my time wisely.  If my opponent was taking a long time to think about their move, I forced myself to read out variations.  If I felt that I had the variations read out to the best of my ability, I counted territory.  If I felt I had a handle on the balance of territory, I read out end game moves and tried to find good tesujis.  Where were the sente, double sente, and gote moves in the end game going to be?  What order should I play them?   
I felt the game took on a new dimension for me.  It was like meditation.  I’ve done mindfulness meditation before.  It relies on focusing on your breath, letting your wild brain wander, and then refocusing it on a focal point in the physical world.  To keep your brain on the straight and narrow, you usually have a focus, usually counting forwards or backwards from 1 to 10.  Playing a game of Go where I focused all my attention on the game was no different.   

My level of play went up.  My opponent didn’t surprise me with moves I hadn’t considered.  I could make better tactical decisions because I counted constantly.  I won 3 out of the 4 games at the Midwest Open.  The second I started focusing completely on my game, the more I was able to bring my knowledge of the game to bear.  I also noticed my emotional state was better during the game.  I didn’t feel anxious, nervous, or fearful of losing.  Focus brought me a feeling of objectivity.  I think in the future I will take this lesson and apply it to life, and focus on the board in front me of me, wherever I happen to be.