I heard something fantastic on the Secular Buddhism podcast yesterday. He said, “Life is more like a game of Tetris than Chess.” Imagine Linus when Lucy explains the meaning of “pantaphobia” and you’ll know my reaction to that analogy as I drove into the city.

PS I remember this as being in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special with Charlie Brown being the one receiving enlightenment, but I guess it’s elsewhere as well. Thanks, internet search!

Tetris and my Game Boy
Vintage! Can you still see my name written on it?!

I am the undisputed master of Tetris. In 1990, I was 18 when I got a Nintendo Game Boy for Christmas, and the first games I got were Tetris and Centipede. Tetris was by far my favorite pastime. I brought it everywhere I went; at school, at home, waiting for my car to be repaired. At work on Space Mountain at Disneyland, you would find me in the breakroom playing it, eyes glued to the screen, fingers tensely poised waiting for the next block.

When it got too easy to beat all ten levels, I made it harder by turning off the preview block, and then starting at the higher speed so that blocks didn’t ramp up coming down faster, they just started throwing themselves down. Undisputed I tell you! Twenty years later, when my sons were pre-teens, I wowed them with my skills when I brought out that bad boy and showed them what’s what.

So when Noah Rasheta said Tetris, my ears perked up immediately and it all came into focus. He went on with the analogy and I added some to it in my mind.

Have you played Tetris? It’s an simple game, not like these crazy ones they make today. Different shapes of blocks come sliding down the screen and you turn and pile them up to complete lines across the bottom so that they disappear. The lines pile up if you don’t complete them and then you lose. The key is to wait to see the piece, turn it to fit below in the best way possible, and return to the top. The pieces don’t stop falling and will speed up as you complete levels.

It’s fun. Trust me.

You run into trouble if you panic. Maybe you planned on getting a long piece to complete a Tetris (four lines complete at the same time), but you got a square and that’s not going to help. Maybe you accidently slammed the cross piece down in the wrong place and now you have a bunch of empty spots you can’t fill. Lines pile up. Heart rate increases. You freak out and turn it off.

That’s life. We can’t plan life out ten pieces into the future. If we’re lucky we can plan for the one we have and then next, but that’s it. The best way we can deal with it is to wait to see what happens, take a deep breath, and find a way to best fit that piece into our life. The alternative is messy and not fun.

Life throws us a square when we needed a straight piece, a left L shape when we wanted an X. It’s not what we get that makes us nuts, it’s panicking and making a bigger mess that throws us.

One of my biggest issues is that I am always trying to anticipate what the next ten pieces will be in my life and then forgetting to deal with the current piece that’s coming down the screen. Instead of doing the dishes, folding the laundry, and enjoying watching cartoons with my babies today, I’m worrying what we’ll do about the bad neighborhood we live in, whether my husband will be able to keep working, or if we’ll be able to afford going on a grand vacation next year. That’s a great way to miss life completely.

The other issue I thought of while I was contemplating the Tetris analogy, was that my already completed lines at the bottom might move out of place or not want a new piece to fit in with them at all. That doesn’t happen in the game! If I were operating alone in this world, levels would be simple to complete, but I’m not. I have a husband, children, extended family, and close friends to consider. But, then again, I am the Zen master of Tetris and those are the challenges that make the game more fun.

Hearing that analogy yesterday eased my troubled heart. There’s just so much up in the air, so much that could change. It’s hard to make plans for the future. But I can live right now as things are. Sure, I can take a glance out the corner of my eye at what might be coming in that small preview space, but my focus should be on the piece I have.

Life changes in the blink of an eye. I can’t let what might have been, what could be, or what everyone else is doing, distract me from what I have right here in front of me. I am the Zen master of Tetris. Bring it!

It turns out I’ve at the Tetris thought before! Check out Managing Distraction: A Repost to see some progress.