A few years ago, I received a gift that would change my life. No, it wasn’t an organ transplant. The gift that changed my life was — TA DA! — an iPad. Having only a mild interest in this handheld miracle, it was not on my “must-have” list. It came to me as a gift and, being unable to refuse, I accepted it with a smile.
At first, I just used the iPad in the same utilitarian way I used all of my electronic devices: email, web searches, calendar, calculator, and occasional note-taking. Later, I realized that I could use the iPad to download books from the library when it wasn’t convenient for me to go to the local branch. I prefer having an actual book in my hand, but I have come to appreciate the immediacy of accessing digital books through, especially during the pandemic.
One day, a friend of mine showed me the jumble word game she played on her iPad. So, I downloaded it. I played it occasionally in doctors’ office and other such places. I also downloaded a word search game for my mother to keep her busy while commuting to catch a train. Neither of these two games interested me very much, so the iPad remained strictly a utilitarian device.
Then, while cleaning out a cupboard, I found 6 decks of playing cards, which led me to lay out a game of what I’d grown up calling “solitaire.” For me, this meant the standard 7-stack tableau version of solitaire that goes by the name of Klondike or Tableau Solitaire. I played a few games of solitaire with an old deck of cards that night and thought nothing of it until the next night as I lay in bed ready to fall asleep. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my iPad eerily glowing in the dark on my bedside table, beckoning me.
“I could download a solitaire app and play a quick game of solitaire to shut my mind down before I go to sleep,” I mused! Five minutes and one free download later, I was happily playing Klondike Solitaire instead of sleeping. One hour later, I was still playing solitaire. Instead of lulling me to sleep, I was now wide awake. If I won, that made me want to play again. I wanted to keep a streak going. If I lost, that made me want to play again. I couldn’t allow myself to quit on a loss! Whether I won or lost, I wanted to keep playing. It was exciting when the screen flashed: “YOU WON!” Eventually, I managed to assert some sense of discipline over myself that night. Turning off the iPad, I finally went to sleep.
But I was hooked! The next day, I was back at it. Day after day, night after night, I played solitaire. In my “spare” time, I’d play solitaire. I would play it secretively. Each time the game would ask me if I wanted to share my score online with other players, I’d say “No.” I didn’t want anyone to know I was playing solitaire! I had become an addict!
I played while I “watched” TV, while I was on the phone, played instead of spending time with my family and friends. Once, I even played while I was supposed to be praying! This pattern went on for weeks. I was obsessed with the game of solitaire in a way that would never have happened if I’d had to lay out those 52 physical cards! Part of it was the ease and immediacy of the play. Part of it was the way the game tracked my stats.
Each “Win” improved my overall percentage of wins. Each win compared my statistics to the “Best” hand in terms of time, number of moves and “undo” moves. Those infrequent times when my score or my time was the BEST, I’d give myself a high five! However, I quickly realized that many, many people played this game for hours each day! Some of their stats were unbelievable. I had no desire to compete with them.
It wasn’t until weeks later that I find out that I never had to lose! I could simply hit the “restart” button and play the same game over and over until I won. The game would even tell me if the deal was a “proven winner,” so I wouldn’t have to waste my time trying to win when it was impossible to do so. There was even a “How to Win” recording of the winning solution! I began to “cheat,” watching the solution over and over, memorizing the moves. My “Win” percentage climbed to over 95%. If only I’d known this when I’d started, I could have had a 100% lifetime, winning record!
Years have passed since I first downloaded that solitaire game. I still play a few games every day. My shortest time is 1 minute; the longest is 37:12 minutes. Average time per game is 3 minutes. Over the course of 5 years, I’ve played more than 13,000 games of solitaire. I’m a slow player; I have to think about each move. However, I always win. When the win doesn’t come quickly and I’m tempted to look at the solution, I now walk away for a while. Sometimes I don’t get back to the game until the next day. The discoveries I’ve made about my own mind as it plays fascinate me.
Apparently, I have a set of rules in my head for what moves to make and in what sequence. For instance, when a space opens up in the tableau, I invariably move the longest stack of cards to fill that open space. This isn’t always the best move, but I consistently do it! If there’s a play to be made by moving a card from the deal pile, I make it. Game after game, restart after restart, I play by this unwritten set of rules that I made up in my own head!
More recently, I realized that I had to break out of the programming I was unconsciously following in order to win more quickly, with fewer “restarts,” and to make sure I never again resorted to looking at the solution! This means that I strive to remain consciously aware of the automatic choices I’m tempted to make and take deliberate action to counter that tendency. I have to introduce what to me seems like a disorderly series of moves so that I can win more easily. It’s counterintuitive to me, but it works. I have to work during each game to free myself from my own programming in order to improve! I’m learning to re-train my brain to use more of the right side, less of the left side, and it’s paying off. The time it takes me to win is getting shorter. The number of times I have to “restart” a game is fewer. The temptation to see the solution is gone – well, almost gone.
Solitaire has been one more way I’ve confirmed what I’ve talked about for so long – we are machines carrying out a program of which we are completely unaware. In order to “win” at the art of spiritual transformation, we have to become AWARE of this programming in the very moment that it’s running and WORK to consciously change our thoughts, feelings and actions. Otherwise, we’re caught in a loop of self-defeating behaviors, looking for rescue from outside of ourselves, or trying to change circumstances instead of self, and losing every, single time.
Spiritual transformation isn’t an instantaneous event. It a long, long process. It requires unremitting attention and focused energy. Most of the time, I’m too busy just operating from my programming. But if we apply just this one lesson learned from my solitaire habit, then, I can guarantee one thing: We will WIN more often. The prize is a calmer, more centered life, where we control less and enjoy more! Your deal!