I have spoken many times recently about my desire to unlock the power of my golf swing. The skills I have cultivated through my centering practice, especially the ability to feel more accurately and acutely what's going on in my body, have allowed me to notice that, when I work on power, I clench the muscles in my jaw when I swing: I don the stony mask of grim determination.
Do I even need to say that there can be no benefit to this expression of tension? Whenever I experience a moment's breakthrough in one of the sports I practice, it's always accompanied by a feeling of effortlessness. In skiing and mountain biking, I experience it as near-weightlessness, as though flying. In soccer or tennis, I'll accomplish something at or beyond the limits of my ability with an ease that makes success seem pre-ordained. In golf, I feel freedom of flow, with no blockage and no tightness.
In our lesson last week, I witnessed a lot of struggle from my students. One wore the mask of grim determination. The other offered a slight scowl or slump of the shoulders with every ball she hit. They both so wanted to hit the ball better. I tried to convince them that we're on the right track, that what we're doing together is working.
But in my own practice, I still find myself wearing that stony mask. It seems I don't fully trust that I myself am on the right track, that what I'm doing is working.
I know I don't want to go through life wearing that grim mask. But it is not enough to say, "I don't want to hit with grim determination." After all, as we've said, the body doesn't know not. So how do I remove the mask?
I began to ask myself, "Can I hit the ball joyfully?" I began practicing some 30ish-yard pitches, and I set that as my goal: I wanted to discover what hitting the ball joyfully would feel like.
Would I claim to have completely figured it out? No. Sometimes my hitting was fun. Sometimes I got frustrated.
But I did notice this:
It was a beautiful day in late September, sunny and warm, and I was in a giant green-grass park, the entire thing essentially a playing field. I was holding an oddly-shaped stick, and I was using it to try to hit little white balls up in the air in smooth and lovely arcs toward a distant flagstick. In the grand scheme of things, that's kind of a silly thing to do, don't you think? But I found pleasure in the motion of swinging that stick, and delight in the ping that sounded when the stick's striking face contacted the ball just so, and beauty in the balls' smooth arcs.
Framed like this, do you wonder, as I do, why we struggle so?