Sitting in the halls of the Rio during the 2014 World Series of Poker (WSOP), Andrew "LuckyChewy" Lichtenberger is telling me about his colonic.
"At the end, this translucent worm comes out."
It reminded me of the Irvine Welsh novel Filth and how Bruce Robertson's tapeworm, developing a mind of its own, started to control the dirty copper from the tar-like darkness of his intestines.
In an ironic way, I came to see the ejection of the tapeworm as a rite of passage for Lichtenberger. Later, in his beautiful book Yoga of Poker, he would write, "Seeking freedom is what we are all doing in life through different means."
The tapeworm wasn't seeking freedom. The fact that Lichtenberger had a pipe rammed up his ass gives me the impression that this young genius was.
In the ensuing years, I saw a remarkable change in Lichtenberger. There was an elf-like calmness about him. I would call it Zen, but I have no idea what that word means. It sounds right. Screw it. Andrew Lichtenberger developed a state of Zen.
Finding that Fractional Edge
I interviewed Scott Seiver a few years back. I asked him, with skill gaps so narrow at the highest levels of the game, where are players going to find their edge?
"I honestly think one of the best methods of preparation is mental," Seiver told me. "So much of the game at the highest level comes down to fractional decisions. If you are angry, or upset, or your head is elsewhere while you are playing, you are going to make a bad decision.
“And that one decision may take you from being the best player in the tournament to the 15th best. It's all about trying to keep a clear mind, focus and ensure you have a balance between work and the rest of your life while trying to reduce stress. All of these things come out on a poker table, and you have to try to avoid them at all costs."
As is always the case, the view from the veranda of poker's comfortable life seems so similar to that of life itself. But how do you prepare mentally? How do you reduce the likelihood that a clouded mind will create a mistake in the game, or indeed in life?
Aided by some quotes of wisdom from Lichtenberger's Yoga of Poker, and structured around my daily life, here are a few snippets of mindfulness to both aid you in poker, and in life.
I wake up, clear the cobwebs, and then meditate. It's a daily practice. I took Transcendental Meditation (TM) lessons several years ago, and I have been meditating for 20-minutes a day, twice a day, every day since.
TM is expensive. However, that expenditure carries a weight of responsibility. You meditate because you paid for it. By the time the financial pain wears off, it's become a habit.
You don't need to practise TM. Any form of meditation will do. Measuring the success of meditation is difficult. If you ask my wife, she will tell you that it's one of the greatest mindfulness tools in my kit. I was once an outraged man. It still emerges occasionally, but nowhere near the frequency, it once did. I have TM to thank for this.
#2 Intention Setting
After meditating, my wife and I enter into a daily practice of intention setting. We stare deep into each other's eyes and recite our plans for the day. Sometimes these are actual projects, and other times they are intangible ways of being.
After declaring our intentions we focus on gratitude. I always try to mix this up and think of one or two things that are relevant to me. I am immediately feeling a sense of gratitude towards Andrew Lichtenberger for writing Yoga of Poker, for example.
I always end my gratitude by thanking the universe for my financial well-being, and my freedom and happiness.
Emptying your thoughts onto paper is an excellent way to create space for mindfulness. I journal daily, focusing on four key areas:
- How do I Feel?
My intention and gratitude setting is a repeat of the verbal declaration made earlier. My mission in life is to help reduce suffering by helping people find freedom and happiness. I find it helps me to write this down daily.
It strengthens my belief. I end by analysing my emotions.
How do I feel in that moment, and throughout the previous 24hrs?
What can I learn from the process?
#4 Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
In Larry Dossey's, Healing Words, the physician shows you scientific evidence that the power of prayer has healing powers. I have also read scientific journals that declare people who pray and have faith live longer than their counterparts.
I don't pray, but I do practice EFT on a daily basis. I believe the two are similar. EFT, known as Tapping, is a practice where a person taps on meridian points, to release energy blockages that are creating negative emotions.
I find it's best to do this first thing in the morning and usually choose one of my negative emotions from journaling as a point of focus. I have also taken some time away from poker, when on tilt, and done EFT before returning to the tables a lot calmer.
You are what you eat.
"Through my openness to accept change, and trusting that from the earth comes everything I need, I decided to change my dietary habits," Lichtenberger wrote in the Yoga of Poker.
I start each morning with a warm lemon water laden with cinnamon and turmeric. I also take numerous supplements to make up for the absence of nutrients in the food that we eat. I then make a smoothie with a variety of fantastic ingredients.
I am a vegan.
I don't eat sugar.
I don't drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or take drugs.
I am a former alcoholic, drug abuser, smoker, and idiot.
I have experienced both lives, and I can tell you this. There is no way I could achieve the state of mindfulness that I yearn for while living that former life.
I was lethargic. I had no energy, drive or interest in anything. I was on autopilot and the destination looked like the end of a cliff.
#6 Slow Down
I poke fun at my wife because of the speed she does things. I have this image of her sitting down to dine and by the end of the meal, the rest of the table are skeletons.
However, the joke is on me.
I am always rushing; I eat too fast, speak too fast; I think to fast…hell, I even make love too fast.
"The experience of wholeness that we get a glimpse of by becoming immersed in the moment is a profound shift in consciousness," wrote Lichtenberger.
How can you be in the moment if you are speeding towards the future?
#7 Facebook Blocker
I don't want Facebook to be a prominent part of my life. I have learned of too many people stressing about not being good enough through comparisons.
It's also a procrastinator's best friend.
"I saw how much more fulfilled I felt through removing the aspects of consciousness that aren't in alignment with who I really am," wrote Lichtenberger.
I have a Facebook blocker that prevents me from seeing anyone else's homepage. I know when someone has sent me a message or commented on my page, but apart from that, I am in the dark. I plan to keep it that way. So should you.
#8 Charm Notes
I learned this little gem from Carolyn See in her book Making a Literary Life. See is an author and the book teaches people how to become better writers. When writing about gratitude, See explains how she would send gratitude notes to people in the mail.
She always made sure they were handwritten and used beautiful paper and envelopes. In a world spinning on an axis of technology, this is a wonderful way of expressing gratitude uniquely.
#9 Checking In
At the end of the day, my wife and I always spend some time checking in. We each take it in turns to talk about our day, express our emotions, and dust off our debris.
The key to the process is the ability to hold space. When I started this process, I was terrible. Each time my wife described a problem, I would interrupt and try and fix it. She taught me about the importance of presence. When she talks, I stare into her left eye, reach into her heart, and try and feel her emotions.
Then we exchange roles.
She becomes the listener.
I become the talker.
Listening is one of the most useful tools in mindfulness. It's also an incredibly important skill to develop if you want to become an exceptional poker player.
A few days after talking to Lichtenberger about his departing tapeworm, he finished third in a $5,000 buy-in event for $242,827. In the next 16 months, he would earn over $3m more, including a World Poker Tour (WPT) Alpha8 title.
That's the power of mindfulness.