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This really helped me today: The Chess Metaphor (Accep

Daystar's picture

This really helped me today:

The Chess Metaphor

(Acceptance and commitment therapy / Steven Hayes & Spencer Smith)

"Imagine a chessboard stretching out to infinity in all directions. On this stage different pieces start to enter. Some are black and some are white, just as in the game of chess. They come close to the center of the board and they begin to align themselves into two separate teams on the different spaces of the board. Now imagine that each of the pieces represents a different emotion, cognition, memory, or sensation. Some of the pieces are positive, such as happiness, joy, pleasureful feelings, and loving memories. They hang out together as a team. And some of the pieces represent your pain, fears, and failings. Perhaps you are deeply depressed, or perhaps you have been diagnosed with an anxiety condition. See if it isn’t true that the negative thoughts and feelings associated with these conditions hang out together as a team, as well, but this team is quite different from the positive team. Now imagine that the various pieces start doing battle. It is a long, bloody war and pieces are being hewn and smashed to bits all around you. This battle has been going on for years. The black pieces are fighting with the white pieces edging in for the advantage while the white pieces desperately retaliate, trying with all their might not to be taken over by the enemy. They must fight because from the perspective of each “team,” the other is life-threatening.

In the introduction, we began this book with a similar scene, but you yourself were in the battle. We suggested that this book was about learning how to leave the battle, not learning how to win the war: Unknown to [that] person, however, is the fact that, at any time, he or she can quit the battlefield and begin to live life now.

The war may still go on, and the battlefield may still be visible. The terrain may look very much as it did while the fighting was happening. But the outcome of the war is no longer very important and the seemingly logical sequence of having to win the war before beginning to really live has been abandoned.
When you first read this, it was probably just an abstract idea to you. Now you are further along, and you can begin to consider the possibility that it was only an illusion that took you into battle in the first place.

You’ve been acting as if your favorite emotional and cognitive team must win this chess match.

But that makes sense only if the white pieces are you and the black pieces are not. In that posture, you must fight because such polar opposites are direct threats to your survival. If “I’m a bad person” is 100 percent true, then “I’m a good person” is destroyed, and vice versa. Thus, leaving or abandoning the battle is not an option. It is a death sentence. The war must go on and you must win it, because you’ve jumped on the back of the White Queen and nominated her to be you. She (and thus you) cannot afford to stop fighting.

But suppose none of these pieces is you? In this scenario, who are you? You can’t be the chess player: that is still someone trying to win the war and defend certain pieces over others.

There is only one part of the metaphor that is in contact with all of the pieces. If you are not the pieces—if you can still be you and not have a huge investment in the outcome of the war—then who are you?

What if you were the board on which this game was being played?

Think about that. How does that fit for you? What if you aren’t defined by your pain, but rather you are the conscious container for it.

What would this mean for you? To start seeing matters from the perspective of the board is to get in touch with the observing self.

At the level of the board, all of the pieces are held as they play out their endless game. There are only two things the board can do while staying at “board level”: (1) hold the pieces (all of them) and (2) take them all along for the ride as the board itself moves on.

In order to move certain pieces around, you must go from who you are (a conscious human being aware of all of these reactions, that is, from board level)

to who you are not (identifying solely with specific emotions, thoughts, or memories and not others).

Said another way, you never really were in this war to begin with. It was all an illusion. The next exercise will help you to momentarily contact your observing self. We say “momentarily” because the observing self cannot be looked at, by definition. For one thing, it is not experienced as a thing. For another, if you could look at it, who would be looking? You can only catch glimpses, like an afterglow. But at another level, wordlessly, you’ve been present all along, as concrete and certain as the chair you are sitting in or the floor beneath your feet. The battle finally will recede as you settle in to the vitality that comes from being who you experience yourself to be (the observing self) without demanding evidence from your mind that would consist of seeing your observing self. The battle can begin to recede in importance when you operate from the basis of who you are, rather than who you are not."

"As you begin to experience this “board level” aspect of yourself, it will become more possible to feel what you feel, think what you think, and remember what you remember.

Pieces become less threatening. Of what threat are the pieces to the board? What does it matter if the pieces are crowded into one area of the board or the other?

Simply holding the pieces is something that is possible only at “board level.”

Defusion, acceptance, and being who you are can thus be deepened by getting in touch with what is going on right now in this moment.

The remaining exercises in this chapter and the next were developed specifically to help you get in touch with the present moment.

Traditionally, these exercises are referred to as “mindfulness” techniques, and we will use that term in the chapters that follow. However, we want to be clear that the word “mindfulness” used in this context doesn’t have much to do with the mind we’ve been urging you to defuse from throughout the course of this book. Here, we are referring to what some Eastern traditions call “big mind.” “The observing self” that was just contacted is part of “big mind” in the sense that it is without distinction (“no-thing/ every-thing”).

Mindfulness is the defused, nonattached, accepting, nonjudgmental, deliberate awareness of experiential events as they happen in the moment."

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norseduncan's picture
Apr 22, 2017

@Daystar the only permanence in the universe is the impermanence of everything, and good and bad is in our perception of each individual thing

Daystar's picture
Apr 22, 2017

@norseduncan unproduced space (the lack of obstructive contact of produced space), emptiness and qualia (the redness of red, the wetness of water, the space of air, the heat of fire) are examples of permanent phenomena. It might sound like semantics but there is a good reason for establishing it when looking at the ultimate nature of things.

norseduncan's picture
Apr 22, 2017

@Daystar agreed. the problem is we think of impermanent phenomena as permanent.


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