Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Butterfly Dreams

By Pauly

After ten weeks of being on the road in Las Vegas and Hollyweird, I have returned to New York City. My time here is short and I'm prepping for another arduous journey. In the next couple of days, I'll board a flight to Amsterdam which begins a six week stint in Europe with work assignments at the EPT Barcelona and the WSOP-Europe in London.

Upon my arrival home (it's not really home per se, more like base camp) after a long trip or assignment, the snail mail backs up. I have a pile of mail to sift through and a stack of packages to check out. PR reps, publishing companies, and literary agents send me books to review on the Tao of Poker or the other places I write. Most of them are poker or gambling books, but I also get random CDs from indie bands that I never heard of. After writing for a German music magazine, I was placed on a weird mailing list from a small PR firm based out of Toronto that handles record labels on the east coast that I never heard. I have a stack of CDs from bands like Panda of the Purple Promise, Muppets Collide, Miserable Neptune, and my favorite new band... Crank Detour. I'm not usually fond of four guys in Ed Harvey t-shirts with messy hair that can't play their instruments fronted by a chick covered in tattoos who sounds like Cyndi Lauper getting anally raped by a garden hose... but when a band has a name like Crank Detour and sing songs about meeting Jesus in an A.A. meeting in downtown Oakland and then skipping out early to shoot dice in the alley, I quickly hit their MySpace page and see if they are touring.

One thing that I like to do before a long adventure is to get a haircut. Vinny the barber is my go to guy. I've been seeing him on and off for the last twenty or so years. When I had long hair in my 20s, I saw him once a year. He was the only person I trusted not to fuck it up. As my hairline began the retreat into oblivion, I rely on him to make it look good. He always does top notch work. A true artist.

Our discussions during the haircut always revolve around local sports and gambling. Over the weekend, he touched briefly on A-Rod's 500th homerun, Barry Bonds and the legalization of steroids in sports, the non-smoking rules at the Borgata in Atlantic City, playing golf in Westchester, and his favorite topic... the buffet at the Wynn.

Vinny the barber is from the old country. Originally from the rough and tumble streets of Sicily, he came to America in the late 1950s. As a teenager, he ended up making money as an amateur boxer who fought in the dimly lit and smokey armories and gymnasiums in the Bronx and in Manhattan. After getting his nose broken a few times, he decided the life of a pugilist was not his calling. Instead, he fought until he saved up his money to pay for barber school. The rest is history.

Vinny the barber turned to running in the 1970s and became a marathon runner. At one point, he was my running coach when I ran a series of 10K races during grammar school. He's a guy who has always been in good shape ever since I met him. These days, his sporting activity of choice is no longer boxing or long distance running... it's golf. All three are similar to poker in that they are solo pursuits (not a team activity). Boxing is like a heads up match. Golf and running are like MTTs where you are competing against a large field. Ultimately, all three hinge on the individual making solid decisions. The slightest error or mistake, and everything you worked hard at is in jeopardy.

At the tail end of my haircut, Vinny the barber and I were figuring out a good workout routine for my week in NYC. I told him that ever since I made an effort to eat smarter and exercise (when I could), that my body was able to survive a rigorous travel schedule, a slew of partying, and a lot of late nights at the WSOP.

And he said, "You have one body. You have one mind. Don't fuck up either."

It was not just important to get in better physical shape. He said that I needed to be in a good head space as much as possible. I have been living a lifestyle where every few weeks everything around me is different; including the city, the people, the food, the climate, the local TV, the accents, the laws, the attitudes, and the vibe. That's enough to make your head spin. Having to adapt and adjust on the fly is something I'm forced to deal with. I have no alternatives. A flexible mind is something that I must have in order to survive.

The wisdom of my barber reminded me of the teachings of Zhuangzi (also known as Chuang Tzu). He wrote a text titled Zhuangzi (yeah, it was named after himself) which is considered the second foundational text for Taoist philosophy. He was born around 370 BC and died around 300 BC. Zhuangzi was a hermit and looked like one.

Zhuangzi suggested a retreat from societal pressures and recommended pursuing "an individual life of freedom." A life of self-cultivation was more enriching than a life of self-sacrifice. Many of his teaches laid the groundwork for modern Chinese and Japanese Buddhism.

One of his most famous discussions involved a butterfly. He dreamed that he was a butterfly floating and fluttering around. He had no concept of being a human. When he woke up, Zhuangzi was back to being himself. He could not figure out if he was a person who was dreaming that he was a butterfly or rather, a butterfly who was dreaming that they were a person. In his text, he called that "The Transformation of Things."

The butterfly dream ended up being one of the most influential dreams in Chinese philosophy. According to C.W. Chan, "This shows that, although in ordinary appearance there are differences between things, in delusions or in dreams one thing can also be another. The transformation of things proves that the differences among things are not absolute."

Perception. Reality. For centuries philosophers have debated both concepts. Nietzsche wrote a lot about dreams and concluded that reality is subjective and that dreams are objective. Nietzsche said that dreams would be a good guide in our daily lives. Zhuangzi's take on the butterfly dream was that in reality... we are dreaming. The fact that his dream was about a butterfly is interesting since butterflies flutter and float. They have no set pattern.

Zhuangzi's teachings can be broken down into three points:
1. Be open to new ways and flexible in incorporating them in your own way of life.
2. Understand both the usefulness and limitations of convention.
3. Cultivate skill to the point of spontaneous flow.
I apply Zhuangzi's philosophy to writing, poker, and everyday life. The third point is what Howard Lederer often talks about with regard to Zen and poker. What you do at the poker table is neither an action or reaction... it just is.... playing poker with all of your focus on the present moment, without worrying about the past or the future.

There are a handful of online players like RainKhan, ElkY, and the (original) Poker Nerd who could easily play thirty SNGs at one time. Whether they knew it or not, they are examples of cultivating skill to the point of spontaneous flow. They were Zen masters and seamlessly made instant decisions for in more than thirty separate scenarios.

I'm at point in my online poker game where I'm comfortable playing up to four or five limit cash tables at once. I play ABC poker and almost all of my actions replicate a bot. It's sort of like driving on speed control. You're not pressing down on the gas, but at any moment you can speed up or slow down depending on the situation. I have evolved into a Zen bot... with fishlike tendencies.

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If you are a food junkie, then you have to check out a project of mine that I have been working on over the last seven months. It is a Flickr gallery made up of over 120 photos of food that I encountered along the way over the last year or so.... Pauly Food Photo Gallery.

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker. All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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