Tag Archives: zuzwang

Z is for Zuzwang


The final installment of the A-Z series. Z is for zuzwang.

Zuzwang is a chess term. The first time I heard it I fell in love with it, both the novel sound of the word and the truth in its meaning. Zuzwang comes from the German word meaning “compulsion to move”. It is a quandary, the uncomfortable situation a person can get trapped into by opposition where no matter which move they make, it’s a bad move and inherently makes the situation worse. The best move in this type of situation is to stay still and do nothing.

In the tarot deck there is a card called the hangman. The picture is a man strung upside down with a rope around his ankles. This card illustrates the point that there are times when a person is metaphorically strung up they have no control over the circumstances, forces greater than them as an individual are in play.

The negative aspect of this type of situation is the uncomfortable and helpless feeling of being strung up. What may be more difficult to see is that this type of situation is also freeing. Because the person is unable to do anything about the circumstances of the situation they also have no responsibility to that situation. There is nothing they can do. In this freeing oneself from responsibility for a situation in which nothing positive can be done. It allows one to take a deep breath and detach emotionally from the situation.

It is very possible after detaching from the situation at hand to gain a different perspective. As time passes and the world inevitably changes, the situation has potential to resolve itself, the opportunity through time opens up new possibilities to make a better move, or it becomes clear that this game is over and it is time to move on in some way.

Zuzwang teaches that living life can be like moving through traffic, Life is going to have some red lights. There are going to be time when cross traffic needs to resolve before successful forward motion is possible. It is time to rest during such times, to recharge, and to absorb information and develop new skills so that when it is time to move again a person can do so as a stronger more prepared human being.

As the cause and effect of life plays itself out in our world. It is good to know when to move with confidence and just as importantly when to be still.