I wrote this a while ago, but following a few recent discussions with friends, family and students alike, this seemed quite relevant – and as a couple of you have requested this be posted as a blog, even though it is not wholly “yogic”(!) – here it is.
OOOH MEDITATION…….that’s what you need…..
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away, I used to play golf.
Well I say ‘play’ but really I use that term quite loosely in this instance.
It would be more accurate to say that I repeatedly tried to do something resembling playing golf.
And boy did I try.
Waaaaay too hard.
Apparently, that was my problem.
It all came about because I moved house and ended up living opposite a golf course. Not long after I moved in, I was sat in my garden one sunny evening, listening to that wonderfully metallic thwack and chink that a driver makes when it strikes the ball oh so sweetly and marvelled at the beauty in that sound. It intrigued me.
Over the next month, I listened to this through my open window, whilst sat in front of PC working in the evenings and decided that I would give it a try.
“Golf?” said one of my friends “GOLF? Really? Er, why?”
I explained that it was a logical thing for me to do, living so close to a course so I didn’t have to travel and that I could nip up there in the evening if I had a free hour to knock a few balls to practise…and as I loved pretty much all sport, it seemed obvious that I would want to try something new – plus, part of the appeal was precisely because it was so different from everything else I did.
“Yes but….. golf? I mean, surely it’s nowhere near dangerous enough for you?”
Ah if only she’d waited a few weeks to see me wielding my five iron…..lethal.
So I went and had a go – and was hooked instantly.
I concluded that it is the crack of the sporting world, as I had one shot in my first practise where I hit it so sweetly (because I didn’t know what I was doing, so did it instinctively rather than analytically) that I spent the next few years chasing that high, trying to replicate that connection, that moment of oneness…or something…..in the end I was happy just to settle for not spending the afternoon in a series of a bunkers where a bucket and spade would have been more use than a set of golf clubs, but ultimately I was searching for that feeling again, where you strike it perfectly…… and it just flies……..*sigh*…….(preferably in the right direction, although that was a bonus secondary objective).
I had lessons, I practised FOR HOURS, I tried and tried and tried.
I read books on it (but I never could quite bring myself to watch it on the telly – I did have a life after all) and I even talked to other people about it in the bar in the clubhouse (I had to – you do get dehydrated after all that practising you know…)
My practise sessions were slotted in around my business, going to gigs, doing chores and my running, so say if I had a Sunday afternoon or a few hours on a week night free, I used to binge on golf (this was pre-yoga, I might add – which will explain much that follows….)
Hours and hours on the practise ground, in all weathers, on my own (I liked it better that way and also I could rock up in my jeans and collarless (*gasp*) T shirt and not get tutted at by the old skool members who disapproved of my reluctance to dress like I’d fallen in a dressing up box full of clown clothes and overpriced branded technical gear), until my hands bled from blisters and until I was hoarse from screaming abuse at the uncooperative inanimate ball that refused to be hit how I intended it and somehow seemed to defy the laws of physics….
My practise methodology revealed my limitations with golf.
Practise, analyse, dissect, adjust, repeat – on an eternal loop, complete with escalating levels of frustration and exasperation.
One of my biggest faults when learning something new was my undercurrent of impatience, as I had zero tolerance for my own inevitable initial inadequacy and incompetence. It was ridiculous and I KNEW THIS and I should have just relaxed and allowed my expectations to rise steadily as I progressed, rather than anticipating instant brilliance. It was nothing about being competitive with others – but with myself, I was ruthless and my own harshest critic.
Add to this an analytical approach of deconstructing a problem or error to find it’s source whilst failing to see this massive over analytical and self critical elephant in the room and you had me with a set of golf clubs.
And quite frankly, it wasn’t pretty.
My instructor berated me for being “too intense” and “overly analytical” (well, der…..) and also picked up on those little visual cues – white knuckles, forearms like Popeye from gripping the club so tightly, shoulders up round my ears, clenched teeth, vein twitching on my temple, very furrowed brow and my other “issue”, namely golf tourettes. With other people within earshot, I could rein it in slightly, but on my own, I would become so absorbed in my inadequacies, that I was oblivious to my “articulations of frustration”.
I will share with you the day of my absolute nadir of this…..
I was on the practise ground one hot and humid evening. I was there, alone, and had been practising for about 3 hours with fluctuating levels of success. It started off good enough but then apart from the odd blip of a neat shot (punctuating my practise with shouts of “WOO-HOOOOO”!) it had deteriorated to me hacking like a red faced axe wielding mad woman. The light was beginning to fade, so in true OCD styley, I had to finish on a good shot. The last 7, “last” shots had all been horrible or not good enough so I decided to finish, no matter what, on the 8th shot, because I was starting to get hungry, my hands were bleeding and also because I like the number 8.. These, I concluded, were all valid reasons to finish on the 8th shot.
I placed the ball, hauled myself upright and prepared, mentally going through the checklist of where every body part of mine was and where it was about to go – perfectly and with effortless ease yet manifesting a powerful shot, that was what I was going to do….that – was – what – I – was – going – to – do…. I relaxed my grip on the club handle so that I was no longer throttling the living bejesus out of it and inhaled, then slowly exhaled. I inhaled and wound up my backswing before accelerating back down for the most perfect air shot I have ever done – completely missing the ball altogether and driving thin air nowhere.
The rage of a thousand bad practise hours welled up inside me and released in a roar of heartfelt fury – crows rose from the trees around me, clouds formed and the sky crackled, and I let forth a fluent torrent of the bestest and baddest expletives known to humankind, along with some I think I made up on the spot, and took another swing at the ball, this time connecting and knocking it deep into the next County(ish). I flung my club down, shouted something profane and profound at the fast disappearing ball in flight, then heard a cough behind me….I turned round to see a little old man stood there with his dog, they had appeared from behind the trees where a footpath ran though the back of the practise area.
“Frustrating sport isn’t it?” he said quietly.
He smiled….. and I cringed – hot, sweaty, with mad, wild “through a hedge backwards” hair (that was where I had had to go to retrieve some of the balls I had actually managed to hit), bleeding hands, a blood stained golf club that resembled a murder weapon more than sporting equipment and a mouth like a sewer.
I blushed deep crimson at all the bad bad stuff he heard me holler and I hung my head in shame – also brought back to the reality and absurdity of how obsessed I had been at hitting these small white balls that seemed to mock me with their indifference to my efforts.
“I am so sorry, you weren’t supposed to hear that, no-one was supposed to hear any of that” I said apologetically.
He smiled with genuine empathy and understanding and said something about his hearing not being so good these days.
I didn’t believe him and the fact that he said that to make me feel better made me feel even more rubbish.
I told my instructor this story during my next lesson, and he made no effort to conceal his amusement at my outburst and lack of awareness of where the footpaths were (he also knew the chap and as I suspected, said there was nothing wrong with his hearing at all), so that lesson, following a quick nip round the course in a buggy to familiarise myself with where everything, including other people, were – we then focussed on putting. Now I have played crazy golf as much as the next person but I was even worse at this aspect of “proper” golf.
“Stop trying so hard” he instructed, as with each shot, I got further and further away from the hole.
“I AM” I barked back whilst trying really hard to not try really hard.
“Don’t try to hit the ball, just hit the ball” he added, helpfully…
I shot him my best Medusa look and then muttered something sweary under my breath.
“I AM relaxed” I hissed through clenched, grinding teeth.
I do not think I was a pleasure to teach somehow…
I was physically able, strong enough, flexible enough, with a good sense of kinaesthetic awareness, good timing, mentally sharp enough to process the information and understand every aspect from every angle yet completely unable to see that the only thing that was preventing me from playing well was myself, that bit of myself between my ears that had a direct connection with the desire in my belly to do it, do it well and do it right.
“You think too much….”
At this point I put my club/axe down and took a breath to calm myself.
“Look, right, all my life in everything I have ever done, effort = outcome. Analyse, learn, understand, practise and TRY. When things get difficult, dig deeper and train harder, try harder. Effort equals outcome – simple. I just need to practise more….it will go in this time….wait for it……OH FOR F***S SAKE….” – the ball sailed past the hole, clean off the green and into the bunker on the far side.
I am surprised he didn’t quit teaching altogether.
I even tried playing golf whilst a bit drunk in an attempt to override my ever so slightly obsessive/enthusiastic side – I didn’t play any better alas but it was definitely more fun. Air shots were hilarious rather than humiliating. One air shot I realised was because I hadn’t even put the ball on the tee yet – oh how I laughed…and how I wonder that I wasn’t barred from ever playing there again….manically guffawing to myself in the middle of a packed golf course, on my own, with a hip flask poking out of my back pocket….
The instructor even tried talking to me about anything other than golf while I was practising, in an attempt to distract me – this worked up to a point, unless he asked me about something I was very passionate about, such as music, and then I would become very animated and my shots would become even more erratic. Apparently I was “far too intense and heart on my sleeve” – this was hardly a revelation for me and I did mutter something back about “sorry, I don’t do “droid”….”
A day or so later, one of my friends asked me how “that golf lark” was coming along – I rolled my eyes and sighed.
“Stupid sport, I don’t even know why I put myself through it….. Ordinarily I’m no quitter but I might have to concede defeat, stick my clubs on ebay and find something else. I just can’t seem to get anything resembling consistency at all – my only consistency is my inconsistency.”
I had started to wonder if my clubs were manufactured from my own personal kryptonite, as picking them up seemed to bring out the weakest and worst of me in a way that no other activity or sport ever had…..I then proceeded to bore him rigid with every last detail about my practise, strategy, persistent errors and conclusions. I stopped when his eyes glazed over and his expression was of someone who had lost the will to live.
“So you’ve gone all OCD with golf as well have you?”
“ OCD? No – if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing to within an inch of it’s life. OCD -that’s just a label that people who lack passion and drive give to people who are very enthusiastic about something”.
“No not at all, and hang on, what do you mean “as well”?”
“Whilst your enthusiasm is admirable and endearing generally, remember this is only golf. Plough your passion into your work or your running, not that you need any more in either but at least you’ll be happier and there’s a point to it. Or maybe you should employ the strategy you have to other areas in your life, which is kind of laid back, don’t give a f*** and with nothing to prove?”
He was right, on both counts of course, not that I saw it at the time, so I just changed the subject, as he had failed to give me a panacea for all my golf woes. For this he was grateful, as at least I stopped wittering on about golf.
The best round I ever played was when I had resigned myself to give up and accept that maybe it wasn’t for me – I played on my own and, relatively speaking for me, I played out of my skin. Latterly I realised this was because I just played, rather than trying to play. All the effort of learning and practising all came together in one beautiful effortless halcyon afternoon where I felt like I could actually play because I stopped trying. My body played whilst my mind, though present, just observed.
I finally understood the instruction during one early lesson that “empty your mind” was supposed to be met with me actually doing so, rather than making a sarcastic remark about “some people round here having a head start on me on that one” when 2 Rupert Bear trouser clad chaps had strolled past discussing the relative merits of the girls in Hollyoaks…
A few years later, I had a flashback to that good golf afternoon, whilst on my yoga mat having the practise of a lifetime.
It was that rare and wonderful kind of yoga practise where you flow with such strength and stability and ease of breath and fluidity and focus and you feel like you’re slipstreaming but in a detached, out of body way, as you cease to be a physical body with it’s limitations of myofascial snags, asymmetrical muscle lengths and old injury issues, your anatomy is almost secondary and you just “become” each asana rather than “doing” them …… as though your entire body is full of thousands of electrical switches and they are all perfectly aligned so the current flows seamlessly everywhere, and you emanate a pulsating energy that surrounds you in a ready brek glow….your mind observes with focus and clarity but there is no critical or “conscious thinking” input.
You are aware, you feel and but above all, you just “are”.
For someone like myself, who is, and I quote my friends, “wired up differently”, my mind has been constantly running a background (and most of the time, all consuming and very foreground) programme of analysis since I was born, whether asleep or awake, this experience was wonderfully liberating and the best way I can describe it is as a form of fluid ecstatic calm. I previously tried to explain this to a student I was teaching as an example of yoga being as much about state of mind as well alignment of the spine (it was a class on Bandha and breath). The flow comes from the mind becoming still – calming the chitta vrtti – and not acting as a barrier of “static” between the breath and the body (and for those who practise yoga for it’s spiritual benefits, the connections to something higher or divine – however you personally choose to label it). You are utterly absorbed and immersed into what you are doing, in a moving meditative state, rather than consciously over thinking what you are doing in a preoccupied overly analytical state…..or drifting off thinking about what you need to pick up from Sainsburys later.
During one class whilst on my yoga teacher training course, my teacher and guru, observing my practise, placed her hands lightly on my shoulders in a long held Virabradasana 2 and whispered “you have so much strength and shtira in this asana, now let go and find the ease, the lightness and the sukha – stop trying and just be…..” – meditation had taught me how, so I did – and the asana melted from a solid to a liquid – and though firmly anchored to the mat, I floated upon it. The rest of the practise just ebbed and flowed with a buoyancy, where my breath carried me far deeper into my practise than before.
Some would call this a glimpse of Samadhi – this oneness, this “high” – except it’s not a high and that’s the point, it’s a state of calm, centred contentment and connection and it’s “bliss” is due to the fact that it is not extreme – it’s not at either end of a continuum of high or low, effort or ease – it’s in the perfect centre of all of them, the point of balance, the ultimate “sweet spot” – as though you have positioned yourself at precisely the right place between sets of speakers, or you have struck a ball at precisely the right point for it to really fly, and then you really fly…..
Many of my friends play golf and a few have recently asked if I fancy getting my clubs/weapons out again….I am beginning to give it some thought….I think I will start with some serious hours at the driving range first though – just to get into full meditative metronome mode.
I might be in a better place meditatively on the whole to give it a go these days, and although I think I would be considerably less ranty now, if you play golf on a course near where I live, I would suggest you take your ear plugs just in case.
After all, you still need both ends of the continuum to give each other, and the mid point of balance, true meaning.
Hence why, no matter how old I get, or for how many years I practise yoga, I will continue to try to do doughnuts with the golf buggy, as my ability for calm, centred repose has also made me further appreciate that I am still very much in touch with my innate ability for thrills, silliness and general immaturity too…