I anticipated that I would be asked this question after The Eightfold Path to Poker Enlightenment came out. The title alone begs the question. Yesterday I was asked the question twice. In the previous weeks, about five other times. During the previous 6 years or so, I have asked myself the same question a few times.
Let’s say there’s a guy who plays poker, and he starts meditating every morning and doing mindfulness stuff all day long and reading about it and talking to knowledgeable people about it. He goes all-in with the practice and the teachings. He learns about harmlessness, intellectually, and it makes sense. He learns about harmlessness, experientially, and he watches himself and his world change. He likes where it’s leading. Eventually a day comes when there are no poker tables on his path. It might have happened suddenly, a quick turn: “Poker harms me and others! Therefore I shall no longer do it!” Or it might have happened gradually, with no forethought, just a natural weaning. In either case, it was the move toward a life guided in part by an attitude of harmlessness that made him move away from poker, which, by his definition, causes harm.
Let’s look at another guy. He is a poker player, and last week he heard some things about meditation. He heard it would improve his concentration and make him less emotionally reactive. He thinks this would be great for his poker game. So he learns more, and he starts doing some of the practices, the ones that he thinks will help him focus better and therefore do better at poker. Over the next ten years, he builds his repertoire of mindful breathing and concentration exercises that he does while he plays poker, and he occasionally does them in regular life during high-stress situations. He and his life are made better (more tiltless) by the practices that he rightly thinks of as stemming from his poker life, in the same way that a businessman might think of poker as something that hones his people-reading skills. The concept of “harmlessness” is nowhere in the mix. Yet when he plays poker now, he harms himself much less than he used to. And when he plays poker, he harms his opponents less than he used to. The things he says. The things he does. The things he thinks. The vibe he sends out. The bitterness is gone. The meanness is gone. The need to make others small is gone.
The first guy quit poker. The second guy has no plans to quit poker. Both are walking the path of harmlessness.