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My Poker Mindset Journey (pt. 1: Finding Meditation in a Parking Lot)



stoic poker mindset meditation mental game
This is the story of how Stoic Poker Dave learned to meditate in a concert parking lot.

An Unexamined Life


When I used to play poker back in the day, it would often be said that I was great, but I had no mental game. I wanted people to be wrong, but I knew they were 100% right... at least about the part where my mental game was trash.


It wasn't just in poker, my mindset in every part of life was my weakest point. I couldn't stop drinking, I couldn't resist other entertaining substances, I couldn't stop eating (at 450 lbs.), and I didn't have a clue how someone could even begin understanding why.


I should also mention that all the self-awareness of those weaknesses I just mentioned have all come around for me in retrospect. At the time, I didn't know I was fucked up, I didn't know I could fix it, I just thought what I had been taught: "you are born a certain way, you can't change it, if you don't like it just complain about how unfair life is."


I thought it was unfair that I was predetermined to be fat, lazy, alcoholic, not particularly smart, and to struggle with focus for my whole life. I had never met anyone who talked about incremental growth towards goals or living an examined life.


Can I Pass the Acid Test?


I didn't love feeling trapped in my own lackluster mind and body, but I had no alternative at that point. Don't get me wrong though, I had a bunch of things I felt great about: hippie concerts, hallucinogenic drugs, alcohol, unhealthy food, etc.


I went to a lot of concerts back then and I will never forget one particular Phil Lesh (bassist from the Grateful Dead) and Friends show. It started off normal, we took a bunch of acid and met up in a big stinky group of hippies and proceeded to talk about ideas and jam to crunchy tunes.


Somehow, I got separated from the group, probably due to the mind melting amount of acid and nearly infinite crowd buzzing through the scene. I headed to what we used to call Shakedown, the main strip where all the action was. People were walking around, breaking laws, looking cool, and yelling out what they had for sale. "Pharmies, Goo Balls, Heady Buds, Fish Scale, Molly, Syd," etc.


Luckily for me, at that time in my life I felt completely at home on any Shakedown in the world. I just walked around and waited for someone to recognize me so I could reunite with my group. This was a plan that had worked a million times before across the country, but not today.


A Chance Encounter


Before my crew could get to me, I heard a kind voice say "You look lost, brother."

I turned and said, "Fuuuuuuuck yeah I am, man. Wait, who the hell are you."

As I turned, I saw a man with a shaved head who was wearing a bright toga with a red finger streak running down the center of his forehead.


I wish I could say I remembered everything we talked about, but I definitely don't. We ended up back at his camp which was overflowing with more people with shaved heads and red streaks on their foreheads.


*sidenote- They were not the same as the religious dots you may have seen, these were something different.


Someone said, "Welcome brother (lots of "family" talk amongst this group, fwiw) we are all about to meditate. You look stressed, you should join us."


I told them, "I don't have a fucking clue how to meditate. You mean like chanting until we start floating and making 'Yoga Fire' like the guy from Street Fighter?"


"No, we do a simple breath meditation to help us settle our minds and find a simple focus. You seem very clouded, and anxious, and I really think you should give it a try," he told me.


I said, "Nah man, I think I'm going to just go find my crew.... Maybe I could give it a try."


You might be reading that wondering what just happened in the middle of that sentence to completely change his mind. Well, not to objectify anyone but at that moment I saw about 6 of the most beautiful hippie girls come and sit in the circle where all the red-forehead bros were preparing for meditation. I decided it was worth a shot if I got to hang around these outlier women.


Meditation Instructions


One of the guys I had talked to spoke up and everyone else got quiet. "Our new brother here has never meditated before, so I'm going to explain really quick. All you have to do is take your focus and put it on a single place where you can feel your breath rise and fall in your body. It might be your belly, your chest, whatever works for you. "


"Then you are going to try to empty your mind of anything other than the rising and falling of that one spot. As you breathe in, silently in your mind I want you to say rising, then as you exhale say falling in your mind."


I asked, "Is that all?"


He laughed, "Well, you will try to clear your mind, but it won't work. Whenever you feel your mind drift, and it will drift quite a lot, in your mind I want you to repeat 3x thinking, thinking, thinking. You might get frustrated along the way, but in between the thinking times, you will experience a singular focus of your mind you may have never felt."


"Okay, lets do it buddy." I said, as I joined them all in their circle.


Over the course of that first attempt at meditation, I probably caught myself thinking about 500 times inside the 10 minutes we meditated for. I did however experience just what that guy told me I would. For fleeting moments, my past was gone, I wasn't worried about the future, wasn't worried about the somewhat poor state of my current life, I was just breathing and taking a break from the unending knot of thoughts my brain had me tied up in for my whole life until this day.


What Came After My First Meditation


I wish I could say that day immediately made me see how much of myself I was wasting on other methods of escape. I wish I could say that it became a daily habit starting that very day. I cannot say any of those things. I just linked back up with my crew, tried to explain what had happened, and got wasted for the next year or two.


The thought of that day, and the experience I had, never left me through all that time. And when i hit my bottom many years later (needing to lose weight, get sober, and fight cancer) I still remembered how to do it.


One day I was sitting in my basement, recovering from my most recent surgery, and my mind was tearing me apart with victimhood and anxiety of what was to become of me, I remembered that feeling. I wanted that feeling. I felt stupid doing it, and if someone had walked into the room I would have tried to play it off, but I sat there for 15 minutes and meditated.


That was the day I started a daily meditation habit that, at the time of me writing this, is almost 10 years old. Those culty bros and ladies changed my life, it just took a while for me to realize it.


In future posts I will talk about different types of meditation, and recount all the benefits I have personally seen from having it as a daily habit. If you prefer reading degen stories, or poker session reports, then check out the rest of the blog. Thanks.


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