Along with another hostage, he'd painstakingly carved a chess set, and would spend hours playing chess with each other. What hit me was when he said something like, "As long as we were playing chess, I was no longer a hostage."
I think I know what he means, a little. I was a decent chess player in my youth. In trying to understand my attraction to the game, I concluded that part of the magic was that when my mind was occupied with the chess game, the world disappeared. All my thinking was directed toward the situation on the chess board; it wasn't just the most important thing in the world, it was the only thing in the world. When the game was over, I'd have to shake myself a little and remember that the rest of the world still existed.
It's similar now with my interest in playing poker, and in other games and puzzles. It's not so different from formal meditation practice. When the mind is merged with one thing, there's nothing else.
The first time I met Zen Master Seung Sahn, it was at a New Year's ceremony, for which he'd written a poem. The lines that have stuck in my mind for decades are
Thinking appears, all things appearI've got no reason to believe that the hostage interviewed on CNN had any interest in Buddhism. That's what makes his story so cool: the people with the best understanding of Buddhism are those with no idea about "Buddhism." The hostage may never have formally practiced Zen, but he naturally found a great secret: regardless of the external situation, the key thing is how you're keeping your mind in this very moment.
Thinking disappears, everything disappears:
Complete, empty stillness.