Poker: a career of uncertainty

The river card has fallen, I've missed my draw and pushed the last of my chips into the middle on a stone cold bluff. If my opponent calls I cannot win the hand and I lose all of the money in front of me. It's out of my hands now, my heart is pounding and all I can do is pray he folds. This continues for a minute, but it feels like an hour. I wait and I sweat until he does what I was wishing he didn't and makes the call. I lose the hand and all the money in the middle and feel the immediate tight sensation across my chest. I know the feeling well, it happens often. It’s a mix of guilt, regret and shame all in one. "That was a stupid thing to do!” “Why did I do that? I wish I hadn’t!" and "Now I look stupid, I’m so stupid!" These narratives continue to spin round in my mind for the next few seconds and minutes, by this time emotion has taken over me. My focus becomes distorted and I make mistake after mistake as a result.

That was how I experienced poker before I started meditating. Each time I made a mistake or experienced a big losing day I felt deep suffering and it hurt. I often had feelings of anxiety before starting sessions which me procrastinate and not want to play. I wanted to avoid the stress and disappointment I felt during losing sessions. After playing I would berate myself over how I could have played hands better. I would lay awake at night wishing I hadn’t made so many mistakes, thinking “if only I hadn’t done that.” After years of mental anguish I decided to do something about it. I began to meditate as a warm up for ten minutes before my sessions every time I played to see if this would help. My goal was to be more present, less distracted and to stay in control of my emotions while I played poker. I did a warm up every day for the following days, weeks, months and years.

Two and a half years on, let's look at the same situation when we are mindful and aware of our emotions. The river card has fallen, I've missed my draw and pushed the last of my chips into the middle on a stone cold bluff. My decision has been made and I know I did the best I could with the information I had at the time, so I take a few deep breaths and let go. This time I'm aware that I'm anxious and feel my heart beating and that's ok, that's normal. I accept that I can't control what my opponent is going to do and i’m ok with that too. I wait and I breathe slowly and I’m prepared for whatever happens. He makes the call and I lose the hand, it’s just part of playing poker. I still feel the emotions, my chest gets tight but this time I sit with the feelings and watch them. Ok, that's a feeling of shame, that's a feeling of guilt and that's alright. There's less regret now because I'm a human being and I do my best. Now the emotions don't own me, I see them and let them be and soon after the hand is finished I know I did my best. I’m relaxed and ready for the next hand, I stay present. Meditation has allowed me to watch the emotions as they happen. Now I experience them but they don't experience me. It's such a wonderful feeling that when you can start to be ok with being anxious you are able to sit and watch the anxiety melt away right in front of your eyes.

Catch you soon and as always big love!