Sudoku, or pseudo cue
To my own amazement, I have become something of a sudoku freak. I now almost religiously end my day by eagerly tackling a puzzle or two, and find myself constantly scouting for another book so I don't run out.
What makes this amazing, at least to me, is that as a wordwright in love with language, I've always been a crossword kid. Not much is as delightful as a cup of coffee with a chance to scramble from five across to sixty down. I loved it when a friend told me the reigning puzzlesmith, Will Shortz, gave a speech in her town saying the beauty of crossword puzzles is the depth of knowledge they require you to plumb: you have to have learned a lot--art, history, science--to fill in eight down and thirty across. You have to know stuff. But, intelligence and memory aren't necessary for sudoku, he said. Anybody with a pencil can do it because it requires no foreplay of knowledge. It's just plain single digit number manipulation.
Actually for me that was the point. Since I suffer from numeric dyslexia and can't push numbers around without reversing or inadvertently repeating them, I thought maybe some easy sudoku could help me sharpen my focus, my familiarity with numbers, and make me less dysfunctional with basic checkbook math and telephone contacts. And, yes, I succumbed to all that hype about how playing with these puzzles could sharpen an aging brain.
I bought a small book of easy puzzles and had at it, one a day or many on a plane. Sadly, my numeric dyslexia echoed back at me continually, with errors like three 3s in the same line. Boy, am I handicapped, I told myself and tried to persevere with this necessary remedy. I loved the bingo! high of getting a whole puzzle right, even if it was just for babies.
Maybe it was curiosity or maybe that devil in me. Before long I started flipping through my book, and peeking at the "hard" or "expert" puzzles further back. I even took a stab or two at them but these were seriously frustrating. And really, life is frustrating and humiliating enough that I didn't need to volunteer for more in bed with a puzzle book. My trigger finger stayed on the answer page, ready to pull it into view. But every once in a blue moon, I actually solved a hard puzzle without it. My exuberance hit the page as a huge star with an exclamation mark scrawled across the squares. Naturally, I wanted more...now that I knew I could do it.
That's how I become obsessed with solving the "challenging" or "expert" or "hard" sudoku puzzles --one a night before I go to bed. I told myself I was really sharpening my aging brain and curing my dyslexia--my very own self help improvement program. But last week I finally realized I am addicted to these number puzzles as outrageous d.i.y. Dharma practice. They teach me how to tackle and defuse frustration. Because I am determined to succeed and scrawl my star!, I've developed astonishing patience for solving the problem set out by the rules. I take my methodical time. I strategize all sorts of skillful means for lining everything up harmoniously in its proper place and thrill when something turns out to solve the sudoku. It's so gratifying to scrawl that star! as a reward for my own laborious effort.
In other words, I am religiously spending lots of time safely developing problem solving skills and the patience to deploy them. I find myself now entering emotionally unsafe human and work situations as though all those involved are sudoku numbers that have to be fit into their proper cube by my skillful strategy. And every night I tackle another sudoku puzzle to remember how to do it this new way: calmly, generously, open mindedly--the way the Buddha would want. Who knew sudoku had this in it?
~Sandy Garson"Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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