Create opportunities to stop thinking.
That was the advice from a psychologist to me this week. In the midst of too-much-ness — the transition back to school, the busy preparation for a new university semester, and drama in my volunteer work — we learnt that a colleague had passed away suddenly.
Sharing his loss with others helps. But the mind does not stop. It’s like being caught in the dark undertow of a rip. Feeling this way is not common for me, but I was struck by Anna Spargo-Ryan’s description of anxiety and psychosis in her memoir A Kind of Magic (I am part-way through this beautiful and agonising book):
When I managed to pull myself away from the porch and start moving again, there was a trip-wire inside me. A trap had been set. Strange, unhinged, exposed. Brain rattling, I would walk down to the bus stop and wait for the metal capsule to take me to the sandstone grounds of the uni. Other days, I sat in the death-quiet of my grandparents’ kitchen and played chequers with my grandfather, whose fingers were too clumsy to pick up the pieces. I was always contending with something that wasn’t there: a flash of light, movement in my pereipheral vision, an invisible friend calling my name. I felt a catastrophic vulnerability (Spargo-Ryan, 2022).
The psychologist suggested I take a walk. One dog plus countless trees and birds, several diverting neighbours, two free little libraries … The different headspace — the not-thinking — did not last.
I have found a more effective, all-immersive distraction.
My 9 year old has been invited to join an elite chess club. He’s a very good player. We have created a new challenge: playing three or five different board games simultaneously. Chess is always one of them. Add Mastermind and Pentago when we feel strategic, or Trouble, Monopoly, Sequence if we prefer chance. We mix it up: Cathedral, Hive, Battleship, Super3, Chess Plus… Any turn-taking game will work. The code-switching and disruption keeps me in the present moment.
Here is last night’s effort. The elite player was undefeated in chess but I triumphed in Pentago.