Chess in the Labyrinth – A Metaphor on Mental Health

Chess in the Labyrinth – A Metaphor on Mental Health

We may speak of chess metaphorically as a match between an afflicted person and mental illness.

The King represents the being over whom the Battle rages. If his enemy captures him, he loses the game. He signifies the deeper self, the divine spark that rejoices to spot blossoms on the cherry tree, hugs a friend who suffered a loss, and paints fresh snow on a mountain at sunrise. Although the most important piece, he is the weakest, capable of taking only a single step at a time through the maze to heal himself; his strength rests in the distribution of powers to his soldiers.

The Queen is the King’s chief support person and confidante, commonly his spouse, partner, or best friend. She reflects the King’s light and contains unlimited potential to invigorate him. The most powerful and versatile piece, she possesses full freedom of movement in any direction through the labyrinth’s passages. The Queen loves her King unconditionally – she pays attention to what he says, persuades him he will succeed, makes allowances, and forgives him. She buys him a mum, phones to ask how he’s feeling, and picks up his prescription at the pharmacy. She offers the music of her soul to soothe and comfort him.

The Bishops personify the King’s therapist, physician, and minister, rabbi, or priest. Their mission is to serve him with resources they embrace by virtue of specialized training. These pieces empathize with the King, give counsel, raise hope, and prescribe medication. They encourage him to take long walks, stick to his routines, fill his agenda every day to stay busy, and eat healthy food. The Bishops protect him from dark thoughts and impulses, recalling which specific therapies made their other clients, patients, and churchgoers whole. The spiritual leaders act as pathways to God, the ultimate caregiver, directly accessible 24/7, if the King chooses.

The Knights embody pharmaceuticals and supplements a Bishop selects that race to the King’s brain to achieve balance by altering chemicals that affect mood. They are the only pieces on the board capable of leaping over the others, those of both the King and his opponent. They can overcome obstacles that appear insurmountable. Sometimes proceeding by trial and error, a Bishop may change course and assign a different Knight. Although physicians competently utilize the tools available to them, they may step aside to allow another Bishop to assume command and restore the King’s health.

The Rooks symbolize the watchers, the observers of both the King’s exterior (the events that occur every day) and his interior thoughts. Their castle walls, composed of reason and logic, safeguard the King, Queen, and Bishops. In concert with his Rooks, the King employs introspection, journaling to explore thoughts and feelings, positive self-talk, meditation, and willpower. As he applies these strategies, his brain processes information accurately, decides what’s relevant, sets goals, makes commitments for his highest good, and assesses progress. These pieces remind him this situation is temporary and implore the King to exercise patience while marching down the path toward recovery.

The Pawns comprise the fighters on the front line, the ordinary men and women who move one step at a time, always forward, never backward, utilizing both the head and the heart, in a quest to mend their King. They represent his friends, coworkers, neighbours, and restaurant servers, who listen, advise, or simply smile. A Pawn can become his Queen. Some may remain ignorant of the King’s struggles but, without trying, lend energy and unspoken compassion. If he elects to trust and confide in them, they may affirm and enhearten. These pieces include strangers from Internet chat groups, and pets who intuitively comprehend and sympathize without expectation. They form a network that underlies the interventions of the King’s other team members and bolsters their probability of success.

The Battle plays out on cloudy days, with a distant shaft of sunlight, over weeks, months, or years. The stakes are high. Although the King’s soldiers work together, he doesn’t require them all – a single Bishop, Knight, Rook, or Pawn, or his Queen, could suffice to win. He faces a relentless adversary; however, with perseverance and his allies’ aid, he will prevail.

Author contact: Larry Godwin, e-mail

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