Whilst on vacation last week I was reading an old paperback that had been in my library for ages. I don’t remember clearly when I bought it, but inside it says it was printed in 1989. It had lain around these many years, just waiting for its moment…
Dr. Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School wrote Your Maximum Mind back in the mid-1980s when he was already quite well known as a ‘pioneer of mind-body medicine’. His book The Relaxation Response was a big seller the previous decade, and introduced many ‘Westerners’ to some of the spiritual and physical feats of ‘Easterners’ like internal and external temperature control, breathing and heartbeat dramatically slowed to ‘near death’, etc. The fact that Englishmen and other Europeans (not to mention ‘Easterners’ themselves0 had been writing about these things many years did nothing to diminish the luster of Dr. Benson’s work, for he had moving pictures and thermometers; this was no longer mysticism, this was science!
At any rate, Dr. Benson has helped many people through his work, and I now include myself among them. As I’ve noted before, I have read about and tried many, many ‘self-improvement’ techniques and strategies over the years. Some helped more than others. However, I had never really tried ‘meditation’, or at least stuck to it. Back when I was just a lad I read Part I of Crowley’s Book Four (free here, if you dare) and was quite interested in samadhi and all that, but really, I was pretty busy with girls, parties and chess tournaments then; sitting legs-crossed humming some sort of stuff paled for me before anything big happened. But then Crowley warned of exactly that. So it goes…
But back to last week. I grabbed something I hadn’t read before for the trip, or at least didn’t remember. Your Maximum Mind, sounds good! And I did the ‘relaxation response’ thing and something really clicked. It’s really quite a simple technique, you can see the basic steps here. In the years since, he’s modified it slightly; now instead of saying ‘any soothing, mellifluous sound, preferably with no meaning or association, to avoid stimulation of unnecessary thoughts’ he thinks that phrases like ‘God is Love’ for a Christian or ‘Shalom’ for a Jew are useful. Just something that has real positive meaning for the person. For the non-religious, ‘one’ or ‘peace’ ought to do just fine.
Now the reader would be forgiven for asking at this point, “But what-all does this have to do with Chess Improvement“?
Indeed, what? I’ll just say that for me, this simple, powerful technique has, in one week, produced levels of calm, patience and balance that are quite amazing to me. I am reacting to events with much less physical tightening, less excitement and bodily stimulation. Already, the formula has become ingrained enough that I can just do three slow breaths and receive some of the benefits.
I haven’t played any chess since I started this practice, but given my previous experience with ‘nerves’ during serious games I cannot but think this would be very helpful. In addition, in the second part of the book the Relaxation Response is used as a first step to prepare the mind for higher performance conditioning and training in sports, education and writing. After a bit more practice with this basic and simple meditation exercise, i will move to using it as such and see if it can enhance and improve chess training.
I will happily share anything that works!