The Emotions of Playing Go
I am a very emotional person, and I am very sensitive to winning and losing. When I win I experience a sense of satisfaction so strong it sometimes borders on arrogance. When I lose, I often experience an emotionally painful sense of loss. If I play well, don’t make any glaring mistakes, and lose simply because I was the weaker player, it isn’t so bad. However when I suffer losses due to easily preventable oversights, the impact of the loss strikes me with a great rush of blood to my face, a tension in my heart, and shame in my mind. Depending on how much effort I put into creating what I lost, and how easily it might have been protected, this feeling can take 30 seconds or 20 minutes to shake off. This deeply emotional reaction to loss reaches back into my childhood, into the deep identity places where personal validation and self-esteem have their roots. It’s the reason I didn’t play sports as a kid- when I lost it was too painful.
One reason I am passionately drawn to Go is that, as an adult with more emotional awareness, it puts me face to face with this challenging aspect of myself. It gives me the opportunity to look at how I habitually respond to loss, again and again and again, in a harmless context. There are times when after an hour of play I have become so deeply invested in the game, taken such a powerful responsibility upon myself on the board, that when the loss comes it is an extremely powerful feeling. It can make me want to flip the board, resign the game, smash my head against the wall, slump with dejection, cease to exist. It can trigger every emotion of shame, wrongness, anger, frustration, self-doubt, and existential uncertainty. I may sit back from this moment and ask myself, “ What am I doing with my life?”, with great seriousness. Fortunately, I am a relatively healthy person and I don’t flip the board, resign (sometimes I resign), smash my head against the wall, or cease to exist. These feelings spike and then recede, for it is just a game. Analyzing the mistake in post-game to understand exactly where I went wrong, both in play and in my thinking, helps to alleviate any lingering frustration.
I’ve been playing Go for about two years, I started when I was 27. With good practice I may one day become a strong amateur. In this pursuit I will challenge strong players often, and I will often lose. For all my life, as long as I play Go, I will often lose. I wish to discover a more neutral response to loss. I don’t want to have to spend even 30 seconds experiencing painful emotions. Maybe I need to meditate, to try to understand the emotional root of this painful response and heal it. Maybe with experience my in-game expectations will become more realistic, and that will help. Maybe if the stakes are high enough, it’s just inevitable. It’s fascinating, how high the stakes can get when all you’re doing is putting stones on a board.