I saw a video by a sports psychologist on how to deal with anger over a bad shot. Rather than expressing your anger or disgust with a shot and slamming your club back in the bag, his prescription was to take two practice swings to release the anger and then a practice swing to focus on the intended proper swing. The anger released, the proper swing reinforced, the club could then be put to rest in the bag without any bad karma associated with it influencing future shots.
I prefer to have a better understanding about what anger is.
Anger is the reaction by the ego to perceived offense, whether it be an “idiot” driver cutting it off or an impudent golf ball ignoring its pleas. A corollary is anger at itself for beating that impudence into the golf ball in the first place.
The ego is easily offended. It’s easily offended because the ego does not dwell in the present, it traffics in the past or the future. It is always looking back at events that caused it embarrassment, hurt or offense, particularly offense. And it’s always looking ahead girding for the fight it “knows” will surely come. That stems from it viewing itself as separate in the world rather than being spiritually connected to the world and everyone in it.
We have spoken before about the ego being an elaborate façade that humans construct on top of their spiritual essence in response to life’s events. It could be hurtful events or joyous events, they all go into the construct. So when someone or something says or does “something,” the ego perceives it as an attack and goes off. I once heard it said that we are all just two sentences away from rage.
I don’t know that you can ever totally suppress something so endemic in the human condition, but I do know that you can mitigate it. You mitigate it by getting as close to your spiritual essence as you can. Even if you don’t do that through the traditional prescription of meditation, just knowing that there is a distinction between your ego and your essence is enough to intellectually observe the ego’s anger.
In real time on a golf course, if you are deeply immersed in the present—completely invested in the target, the ball, the club and the body—the ego is sublimated in your consciousness. It’s still there, always there, but sublimated.
I remember a practice round at home where I was paired with amateurs I did not know and I was working on just this, watching my anger. I was watching it from my spiritual essence in the present to see how it would intrude on the peace and tranquility I had achieved.
But you have to be careful when you do that. It came out fairly early in the round that I had played golf professionally and because I was so deeply in the present, I was playing very well. But unbeknownst to me, in my little exercise I had completely cut myself off from my playing companions; they weren’t the target, the ball, the club or my body.
Now, you gotta understand, I am a gregarious, funny, fun-loving, fully-expressed human being, especially when I’m playing golf which I love to do. I like finding out where people are from, what they do, what their interests are.
So we’re on the short, par-3, 8th hole and I hit a great shot close to the pin. The joy of that shot sucked me right out of my innocent cocoon and I broke out in a gleeful, radiant smile. And one of my playing companions said with a tinge of petulance, “Oh, finally we get a smile out of you.” I had no idea. That’s how deeply involved I was in the present. It’s why many accuse Tour players of being automatons. It’s not that, it just looks that way.
So on the one hand, it’s a cautionary tale about being too self-involved when you’re playing professional golf in a recreational setting. But on the other hand, it’s a golden lesson on how it really is possible to compartmentalize the ego from the essence and then intellectually observe how events bait it. It’s not that you won’t have angry or disappointed reactions to a bad shot or bad luck here and there.
But at least you can recognize it for what it is, why it’s happening and get back into the game without using superficial tricks or ruses in an effort to fool yourself.
It’s not us. It’s our pitiful little egos. And I don’t know about you, but don’t like anybody tellin’ me what to do, Pardner.