Monday, September 9, 2013

Sorry! The Game of Sweet ... Karma

One of the many things I love and appreciate about having a child is that I’ve ben given license to play games again. On many nights we set aside our electronic devices and turn off the TV and settle in for an old-fashioned game night.
Tonight Jack selects Sorry! The Game of Sweet Revenge. It’s not my favorite game but at least I have a chance of winning this game, unlike with Monopoly. Jack is a Monopoly wunderkind, a prodigy. He buys up every property he lands on and puts up houses and hotels with lightening speed—all the better to bankrupt me. But with Sorry, the playing field is leveled because, although there is some strategy involved, we are both equally at the whim of that little thing Buddhists call karma, otherwise known as the law of cause and effect.
   Although it's unlikely Parker Brothers created this board game with the thought of teaching Buddhist principles, it's one of the best examples I know. In case you don’t remember, the objective of Sorry! is to get your four pawns around the board from your Start point to your Home. Movement is predicated not by a die roll but by directions from a deck of cards, which you take turns drawing. The revenge aspect comes into play when you choose a "Sorry!" card, which allows you to exchange one of your own pawns from Start and with an opponent's pawn that's already circling the board, thereby increasing your chances of winning and your opponent's chances of losing. For this reason, the game can become rather heated, especially when playing with four people where choices must be made about who is bumped back to Start and who continues around the board. It's natural, of course, to seek retribution on those who have thwarted your success—rounding the board, that is. But that's not karma.
   Karma is not a sense of tit for tat. Karma certainly is not revenge. Karma is act and outcome. It is neither good or bad, vengeful or just. Karma, quite simply, is a logical progress. If this, then that. And whereas you can control your action, but you have no control of the outcome. Same goes with Sorry!
   As Jack and I play, every move becomes an action that places our pawns in position to win or lose, but there is no way of knowing if the move will mean victory or ruin. Our game progresses quickly, and in no time all Jack's pawns are rounding the board. Two are already at Home and the others, well on their way. 
My pawns have not been so fortunate. I only have one rounding the board. The others seem hopelessly stuck at the Start. (You have to draw a one or two to advance from base.) Jack seems destined to win in record time. But then I draw a combination of cards that places two and then three of my pawns in position to enter Home. Drawing a Sorry! card, I send one of Jack's pawns back to the Start and my final pawn is out and nearing Home as well.
   "Agh! Mom! How could you do that to me?" Jack cries. "I was so close to winning!" 
He picks up the affected pawn and dramatically throws it across the table.
    "It's nothing personal, son," I say. "Besides you never know how things will turn out. I was lagging way behind just a few moments ago. Now I’m in the lead, but that could change again, right?”
“I guess,” Jack says.
   He grudgingly rights the pawn and we continue our game. In my mind I dance a secret victory dance. I’m in the lead. My fourth pawn sits in the "safe zone," just three spaces away from Home. I am poised to win ... until Jack draws a two (which allowed him to get the pawn out of Start and provided him with a second turn). On his second draw he turns over a four, which allows him to move back four spaces. Now, without having to round the entire board, he is within eight spaces away from Home.  Just like that, he’s back in the game, but I’m still one card away from winning
   I draw my next card. A four. Back four spaces. That puts my last pawn seven away from the Home goal.
   "Oh no!" I shout.
     Jack snatches up a card from the deck.
     "Ha!" he cries.
     He throws down an eight. Exactly the number of spaces he needs to guide his fourth pawn into Home. And presto! just like that, Jack wins. I shake my head.
   "That was amazing!" I say. 
Jack  grins and does a little dance around the table.
“Let’s play again,” he says. "Best two out of three!"

   How many times in this life have I thought a setback was a travesty? How many times in life have I whined and cried about something that didn't go the way I planned? I act as if I my plan is the best, most ultimate solution and then become discouraged because it didn't pan out. In my limited perception, how many times have I scowled and tossed my pawn across the table, only to discover that the very setback I cursed was exactly what needed to occur to provide me with the best possible outcome? A lot. 
Playing Sorry! reminded me that most of the time I don’t know the outcome of an event or action and I should not try to judge it as being good or bad, advantage or disadvantage, gain or loss. Better to see the wisdom in accepting that no matter the outcome, it is not permanent. Throwing my pawns across the board will rarely help me and only serves to disrupt me from making the next logical move.  Who knew that I could learn about karma and the nature of impermanence during Game Night with my son! 
Will Jack learn these lessons as we play best two out of three? Perhaps. Will he learn to take life as it comes from observing how I handle disappointments, setbacks and change? Most definitely.  

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