posted on November 01, 2008 15:05
It was a clear November day, warmer than normal. The sun was bright, casting harsh shadows. My face was warm in the sun and my hands cool in the mild breeze. As I walked the course alone, I was drawn to the sight of a red flag shouting in the breeze. The course was empty as I walked in a sea of green along the rolling contours and slopes of the changing landscape. The leaves were gone from the trees and the mountainside was a backdrop of dappled gray. There was something about that red flag…
I like to play golf as a way to escape from the daily grind. When played with a different perspective, golf can also teach us valuable lessons about how to live life more fully.
I was unknowingly about to receive such a lesson on this day. I met Art as I made the turn onto the inward nine. I didn’t know him but could tell he played the game with a different perspective. His demeanor was calm and relaxed and a sense of inner confidence underscored his walk and swing. His personality was warm and the conversation was easy. We talked about the inner game as we walked the back nine.
The conversation turned to philosophy and the concept of non-attachment and how it applies to golf. We spoke of Golf In The Kingdom and how Shivas Irons assures Murphy, in his Scottish brogue, “Dona’ worry about the score so much. It’s not the important thing.” We discussed our own efforts in detaching from the score and how we viewed the results of our shots while remaining in the witness mode. We offered mutual support as we executed shots, gauging and measuring our own level of attachment to the results with each effort.
We got to the sixteenth hole, a downhill par three, 157 yards over the water. The harsh sun was now nearing the horizon. The shadows were long and the breeze was getting cooler. Art was nonchalant as he teed up his ball and said “I’ve noticed that when I let go of my attachment to the outcome, I feel more freedom in my swing.”
He spoke as he set up to the ball, “It’s not an easy thing to do, especially for most golfers.”
He talked right through his set up and started his swing upon uttering his final word. As soon as the ball took flight he leaned over and pulled his tee from the ground and continued, “Most golfers I know are so attached to the result of every shot and to their score, that their game is filled with nothing but frustration.”
The shot was a high, floating seven-iron with a mild draw, right at the pin. After he picked up his tee he turned his back to the hole and faced me, talking, as I stood watching the ball in flight.
He continued, “Once I learned to let go of, or at least minimize my attachment to the result, my game changed dramatically. Not only did I have more fun, I also improved my level of play.”
The ball hung in the air an incredibly long time. I stood and watched as it arced toward the hole; oblivious to the words he was speaking. I was totally attached to his shot and the impending result. He stood calmly looking at me as I leaned my body English to the left to get the ball over to the hole. With a muffled sound the ball struck the unfurled flag and then the pin and dropped to within two feet of the cup. He finally turned, saw the result, then looked back at me and grinned a large grin.
As we walked to the green he continued to explain how he felt that golf is a great teacher of life’s lessons. “This game gives me opportunities to learn about myself. It’s a journey of self-reflection. It brings me face to face with frustrations, fears and the demons within. I experience some fleeting happiness, but more often it’s self-criticism, harsh self-judgment and judgment of others. Not only is it similar to life, in that regard, it actually helps facilitate the learning I’m here to accomplish. For me, golf is a game within a game. I don’t take it too seriously, but I use it as a mirror to reflect back to me the inner thoughts, emotions and feelings that come up as learning opportunities.”
Art made his birdie and celebrated with upraised hands and a huge smile. As we walked off the green, the red flag snapped in the wind as if acknowledging the shot. We continued on and finished an enjoyable round. It is one that I will reflect upon and remember for a long time.