In my previous post discussing Hunter Mahan’s loss of his match on the final day of the Ryder Cup, I wrote:
…The only time that they don’t [think of failure] is when [they] are so absorbed in the moment that [their] attention is totally focused on the matter at hand. The antidote for the ego is presence.
One hopes that the half point that Hunter lost when all of the world was watching him will soon devolve into just another couple of back-to-back, bad golf shots just like he’s hit many times before…and will again. Working to be unaffected by that—to see that he is his spiritual essence and not his ego—is probably more important than working on his swing.
A reader wrote in a comment to this post:
So Bill, what should the amateur do under intense pressure to give one a better chance to succeed? What routine, what checklist, what works?
Excellent question! And the answer is true for all of us, not just amateurs.
The best place to begin is by re-reading my previous post, “About This Zone Thing.” In it, I describe the process of meditation as a way to understand that we are not who we think we are.
Enmeshed in the swirl of our daily lives, we slowly mature and evolve into egocentric beings. And in some sense, that is who we are to ourselves and to the outside world. Based on our life experiences, we instinctively construct elaborate ego facades to deal with the world as we find it. And while there may be broad categories, there are as many different facades as there are people.
It is from this egoic mind that we have to try to detach ourselves in order to achieve our true potential. It is awareness that leads to success, not thoughts, because awareness leads to learning. In meditation we discover that the mind is festering with thoughts and feelings while essence, once we turn the thoughts off, just is.
Once we experience our essential self through meditation, its stillness, its peace, there is one real-time way to tap into that stillness over and over again: ignore thoughts and feelings. Easier said than done, I know, but the evidence that it’s possible is by looking at who is examining those thoughts and feelings? The examiner is our Essential Self. Stripped of the ego, essence lives in the joy of the moment.
For Hunter Mahan, had he been engrossed in the joy of golf, his fascination with the mysteries of how the ball disappears into the hole, his satisfaction in the flowing technique he’d embedded in his muscle memory, he might have had a chance. But squirming because he only had two holes left to pull a victory out, keenly aware that the huge, looming, European gallery was not pulling for him and that his teammates who had suddenly arrived were, worried about whether he was worthy enough given that he asked to be in the last match of the day, he had no chance. The tee shot got him thinking about it, the chip shot confirmed his worst fears.
So that’s why Tour players frequently say before those stressful situations, “I’m just going to go out there and have fun.” They might not have all that underlies that fully articulated in their minds, but they do remember the joy they experienced as a kid and how carefree life was back then. And because they’ve devoted their lives to the game, they’ve experienced those carefree moments many times since.
And as we practice turning off the ego by just being in the moment with what’s in front of us, we become more in touch with our spiritual essence. And the more we become in touch with ourselves, the higher up we slide on the scale of consciousness.
Difficulties turning off our thoughts and feelings—and it’s a lifelong process—present opportunities to train ourselves. Becoming aware of the egoic mind hanging on, intruding, diminishing our sense of the present, is a great first step for no other reason than we finally realize that it’s going on! And once we are aware, we can return to the present again and watch what happens next. And next. And next. Ultimately, it is simple awareness that resolves it.
This isn’t always easy, but with practice we move up from joy to bliss. Imagine what would have been possible for Hunter if beyond his sheer joy in the moment, he was able to expand his awareness further to get in touch with the bliss in the moment: the smell of the grass, the perfection of the design of the green complex, the stillness of the crowd as he got ready for his shot and the certainty that they were hanging on to his every move. Thousands of eyes watching. Waiting. A collective golf intelligence that understood everything that was combining to make their moment.
Sliding further up the consciousness scale moves us to the deepest level of our essence, to love. To love because God is love, we are “of” God and therefore we are love too. Love is at the core of who we are. It’s why we cry at weddings, the birth of a child, the national anthem. Imagine further that Hunter was able to transcend bliss and play his shot in a state of love: love for every other spirit in the gallery, love for everyone else he knew to be on the golf course, love for the hundreds of millions watching on television around the world and, yes, love for himself.
When you can operate in the world in love with everyone else because you know that, with all our human foibles, you are them and they are you, you have nothing to fear. In the absence of fear, it is difficult for the egoic mind to disrupt the moment.