This month I talk about my experiences with the game of golf, and how it entwines with a spiritual life.
When I first took up golf I was fortunate to have my first lessons with Mitchell Spearman, a world-class instructor. He couldn’t believe how quickly I was able to understand and take on board his instructions.
Apparently, many people who are taught golf have no awareness of their bodies and the space around them. So, giving them directions becomes very difficult because they cannot get a sense of how they need to adjust their body as they are instructed to. It does have to be said here that everyone does learn differently; some of us are more visual. We need to see a stroke and then mimic. I myself like to see it, but the real ability to make it comes when I close my eyes and feel the swing in slow motion a few times. No wonder, I’m also a great believer in visualisation.
I put the ease that I was able to take instruction down to the fact that my yoga and meditation make it easy for me to correlate movement with awareness, not to mention the natural flexibility I have.
Power of yoga
Yoga means union. When I teach a yoga class I put a lot of focus on feeling the movement and being aware of how the body feels in each asana [posture]. When I practice alone I often keep my eyes closed for a good deal of time, taking the time to breathe deeply and be aware of how my body is feeling. This develops an ability to be aware of the body, and its own innate intelligence.
If you are in the learning process of golf, from a novice to a good player, it seems that a lot of practice is a pre-requisite. But, even then you can hit balls for hours on the range, but when you endeavour to take what you have learned out onto the golf course it can go horribly wrong, not only for the beginner, but for all level of players.
There are many obstacles to overcome on the golf course: hazards, sand traps, and trees, to mention just a few. This is the physical aspect, but very interestingly for me there is also another – of how you deal mentally with each shot.
There is no game where it is more important to be able to be totally in the moment. One that is greatly challenged by the fact that there is time in-between each of your shots for you to think. For instance, when you walk from one shot to the next. How are you to be expected not to let your mind run riot in-between if you have just hit a bad shot?!
After I’d had a few lessons with Spearman we started to discuss yoga and meditation and we realised how beautifully golf is complemented when you have the skills that yoga and meditation bring to you. We also considered the idea of working together. At this point I had already met Deepak Chopra and was studying under him.
Spearman decided to head out to California to attend one of Chopra’s courses. Whilst on the course Chopra asked him for a golf lesson. They hit it off well, and the started to discuss the possibility of putting a programme together that showed the benefits mind-body and spirit lessons could have on the game. Chopra, like myself, found himself able to absorb instruction quickly, and had no problem dealing with the mental side. Shortly afterwards, the three of us ran a programme called Golf for Enlightenment. I taught the yoga and meditation part, Chopra leadership skills and Spearman golf per se.
Most important: you need to have goals. More so, when we expect ourselves to be true spiritual masters, there is no substitute to practice. We need to do our yoga, practice our meditation and do breathing exercises, and be aware of who we are, and work at it.
It helps to have desires, or goals, that we are working towards. But, at some point, we need to detach and let everything to just flow. A true master learns his/her trade and the body becomes a finely-tuned instrument that will carry out at our bidding the best we can without worrying about it.
This also creates the ability for us to be in the zone of things, or the “flow.” In others words, become the Masters of our Destiny.
When we practice our meditation and our yoga on a retreat, or alone at home, we can be very calm but when it comes to taking what we practice out into the world and, perhaps, to be amongst our family or workplace [which can be a hazardless place for many of us], the truest test of whether we are spiritual masters comes about. You probably know what I mean: you think you are doing really well with your practice and someone shows up who makes it very difficult for you to hold your sense of peace and tranquillity, and all sense of peace goes out the window. You can find you’ve lost your sense of self and are simply being reactive. This has the effect of removing you from the flow of life.
I think there is a beautiful correlation to be made between golf and life. In life, if we have a goal, something that we are aiming towards. It can help us to overcome hurdles and problems we come across on the way. Also, if we cultivate the ability to not hold on to the past to always come afresh to our experiences we can create more of a natural flow in our lives.
One more thing. You need to have a sense of detachment from the outcome because if we think about it, every moment, it becomes difficult for us to allow ourselves to make mistakes. I really don’t think any of the most successful athletes are constantly thinking about winning that would have the effect of detracting from the power of being in the moment.
This is also where we can clearly see the correlation between golf and spiritual life. When we can master the ability to be in the present we can truly become masters of our destiny. The game is set up for the one who has the ability to come to every shot with a fresh approach and no attachment to what has just been. The intent to succeed also needs to be there for if any doubt is allowed to creep in, itcan quickly diminish the performance of the player.
Think like Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods. He can hit the ball beautifully all over the golf course but his focus and intention to win are so powerful that he does not let impediments, or mistakes, influence his play. Observing him, it would appear that he approaches each shot afresh.
Many other players who hit the ball off the fairway immediately mislay their concentration. You can see them become unable to stay in the moment. The result is they don’t just mess up one shot; they carry it onto the next few. Therefore, it does not matter how good you are technically at the game, if you’re not able to detach from the past and be in the moment it becomes impossible to perform at your best. This is where meditation can be really beneficial to the golfer. Tiger’s mother is a Buddhist, so I am sure he knows about meditation.
It is through meditation that we come to understand that we do not need to be attached to the process; and, that we can be more fully in the moment.