I was playing a casual round of golf with the CEO of very large, publically traded company. Somehow, the topic of conversation turned to what I did and I began to adlib the point of my blog. I didn’t really like the way it was coming out, but I started down a road that felt like I should keep going.
“The blog is about exploring the principles of mastery through the game of golf. I use primarily the PGA Tour, but also the European Tour, the LPGA and the Champions Tour, to look at the question of how we respond to stress.”
I’d never really actually used the word “stress” before in speaking about the things that impede our mastery. But there it was.
“It turns out that our reactions to circumstances we find ourselves in get in the way, cloud our instincts and judgment. So it’s important to learn how to just be with whatever situation we find ourselves in, because all stress in self-induced.”
He thought for just a beat and said, “Yes, that’s right.”
While it was gratifying to have him ratify what I’d just said, I felt like I was a little off-point. My usual conversation is about nervousness, self-doubt and fear when it comes to golf shots and how to deal with those things. But I think of stress as a cut above all that. Not that a putt to save the match to win the Ryder Cup can’t release its own terror, but I always tended to think of it as manageable while stress can be off the deep end and not so manageable.
And given how they speak about it, I think most people think of stress that way. They also tend to think of it as something that comes along from some outside source rather than something generated by us internally as a reaction to that “source.”
All this was kind of brought home to me today when I had to have a repairman come to fix the aftermath of frozen pipes. I’d used him for other things before, so when he arrived at the front door, I immediately noticed that he’d lost twenty pounds or so. He no longer looked portly, he looked fit.
“Wow! Have you lost weight?”
“Congratulations. You look fantastic.” And we went on to the matter at hand.
There was about a half hour of front end diagnostic time where I showed him the issue, he probed and poked around to make sure he uncovered its entire scope, developed two plans to deal with it and I chose one. He then set off to his truck for tools and parts.
On one of his trips back, I asked, “So how’d you lose your weight?”
Now, I have a relationship with this guy. In the course of three or four other issues, he’s probably been to my house five or six times. And since I’m always fascinated by how things work, I always watch him do the work. He’s knowledgeable and good with his hands. We’ve had wide ranging conversations while he worked.
So after his one-word answer, I waited for him to continue…and then one more beat. Nothing. So I just let it be. But later, as he was doing his last checks of the repair, I noticed that he was no longer wearing his wedding ring.
After he left, I felt bad for him, wondered if he had anybody he could talk to and even how much better he might have handled his problem if he’d had some of the skills we’ve been discussing here as golfers.
Probably the biggest idea that could have helped him is that there is no fear in the present. There is no stress in the present. Fear and stress only present themselves when our minds drift to the future or the past. At that concentrated moment in time, there is only the moment, none of the baggage we drag through it.
We wonder how the divorce is going to turn out, we worry about the kids, we get sick over the financial implications and all the other unknowns associated with uprooting a family.
We look back on the past and continually mull how it all came to this. We wonder what people said about us or what they thought about us. Our egos cringe. We are filled with regret and remorse. It is all very real in our minds and can be very painful.
If only my repairman had the experience and practice of meditation in his quiver. If only he could know the peace of descending into the black abyss of deep meditation where philosophy about the past and future melts into the exquisiteness of one still moment…and another…and another.
When you can reliably take yourself to that moment, to that peace, it’s easier to see that the emotion of stress comes only when our minds drift from the present. And it is an awareness that can be carried back up into wakeful consciousness. It comes under the popular banner, “It is what it is.”
We are able to see that all we need do is deal with the matter at hand right now. We make the appointment with the lawyer and then let it go of it until it gets here. We assemble the financial statements and send them off. We prepare the affidavits and send them off. Thoughts of bankruptcy, poverty and hopelessness come up and we let them go. And always returning to the moment, right here, right now. It’s not that these big issues don’t exist, it’s that you only need to deal with them when it’s time to deal with them, not before and not after. Because there is no stress in the moment.
Golf seems trivial to all of this, but the mental skill set is the same.