The fool is fixated by the flaming ruins of the temple for many hours, gazing across the crisp night air at the blaring inferno until its last embers fade and the night is pitch once more. The moon has not yet risen and the only thing to light this air is the stretch of dusted stars reaching overhead.
Many of these distant suns sparks bright in the sky above but the brightest of all is the North Star directly above him, and craning his neck back to see it the fool cannot help himself but lay back on the grass and stare at it, hypnotised by its steady light.
As the fool gazes in meditation at the North Star, he experiences sensations passing through him which he hasn’t allowed himself to feel for some time. For all his wise and gritty experiences, on this long journey he has rarely felt a simple, human gladness of heart.
Now he does so, it breaks out of his heart like a river breaking through a crack in rock. The fool has a sense of clear, calm white light – a collected and cool reflection surrounds him. Good will radiates out from his reclining figure on the hillside, across the land to all mankind and all of nature.
Calmness and trust are perhaps not the first concepts we associate with poker – but they are emotional qualities which we do us fine service in our poker toolkit if we can adopt them.
When we say trust we are of course not talking about blithely believing our opponents, or about gullibility, but about a more profound form of trust – the ability to trust ourselves, as well as the reality we find ourselves in.
We must trust our very instincts – but these can lead us astray, so how, you may ask, can we trust them? The answer lies in learning to use our instincts and intuition more effectively.
The key to this lies once again in quietness of mind, in calm. If we are not busy reacting to each new stimulus, with a primed and anxious aggravation, we can take in all the information available to us and make a measured and balanced response. A response, not a reaction.
When we sense that someone is bluffing, whether online or live, this instinct will be rooted in a wide range of experiences, stuff that is half-conscious, that we may have noticed earlier, something about the guy’s bet sizing compared with a previous hand, a timing tell, it could be a combination of any number of things.
But there is a qualitative difference between the experience of instinctively realizing someone is bluffing, and thinking that we’re realizing this when we are actually wrong, we are deluded.
Of course we cannot tell the delusion from the real realization while we are having it, otherwise we’d never make a misstep with our intuition. But there is a qualitative difference nonetheless and one we will only learn to distinguish with time, experience and above all quietness of mind.
The star also represents optimism, a force which some argue is undesirable, citing the old adage that pessimists are never disappointed. My pat response to this is to simply point out that an optimist may be frequently disappointed, but that he is never disappointed for very long, since things can always get better!
It is truly so much healthier for the heart. If you find yourself caught in a web of negativity and suspicion of the fortune that awaits you, start by simply recognising that this is the case. Watch your usual thought processes tick over dispassionately, as if an observer. Cultivate this quiet part of yourself which simply notices the thoughts and emotions.
As this part of your mind gains strength, the quietness will become an environment in which the thoughts and emotions which you experience will become the fleeting forms which simply play out in that space. As this happens, you’ll find yourself less and less caught up in them, less lost in the drama of those reactions, at which point they will begin to change of their own accord.
A happy person with good tilt control and a balanced approach to the game is far more likely to show genuinely good will towards other players, as opposed to simply muttering “good luck” without really meaning it. Of course, even those with the best will in the world don’t really mean it when they say “good luck”, it would be tantamount to wishing that we ourselves lose the tournament to mean it!
However we can still show genuinely good will towards the other human beings collaborating in the game we love together, bear them no ill will when they do bad beat us or otherwise knock us out, and generally engage socially and amiably with everyone we play with. This is going to be pretty difficult to manage if we’re busy fuming or otherwise struggling with our own emotional reactions.
The Star reminds us to focus our attention on the game itself, not on the outcome, not on the money. The game is what we love, and it is attractive not only because of its potential profits, but because of the fascinating and layered complexities of the gameplay – the strategic challenge.
Keeping our attention on getting better, on making good decisions and on playing our A-game is a great way to keep emotional investment at bay.
A single focus of attention, be it a star, a candle-flame, a flop or the feeling of your own breath – all are fit subjects for meditation, the art of being fully centred in this moment, of being fully involved but not lost in attachment to that moment and its consequences.
Meditation is the art of immersion in the present, for which we need calm, commitment and detachment. We need to keep a cool perspective to make good decisions and to have truly cool stories worth telling when we get home from the felt.
This series is written by Lucky Luke. Luke is a writer, editor, MTT grinder and poker coach based in Oxford, UK. His interests include game design, charity, ecology and philosophy. You can follow him on Twitter
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