Practicing Mindfulness through Golf

Mindful Putting during the Coronavirus Outbreak


We've never lived through a time like this. It feels as if a silent war has begun around us. I want to send a message of comfort but don't know where to begin. Walking through the grocery store yesterday, the sensation of fear was palpable. What can we do? What can I say? I've grown tired of watching the news on tv. As the Director of the Shivas Irons Society, what should I do. And as my friend and fellow SIS member Doug Adams would say, "Ben, don't should yourself". So, I'll just start......

Random thoughts go through my brain. Today would have been my father's 90th birthday. He's been gone now for almost 30 years. Life is precious and fleeting. And, I love golf. I love what golf teaches me and how it tortures me and what it has yet to teach me. I believe that this game that we love has different things to teach each one of us. Think for a moment what the game has been trying to say to you, through you. 

So, let me just share here what I believe golf has to teach me. In a word, presence. If you've ever played golf with me, you've witnessed post-adolescent hyperactivity in motion. I'm impatient, not so much with my playing partners, but in my approach to the game, which is to say in my life; and I overdo almost everything in my attempt to improve. When, as a young adult, I was taking piano lessons, Ron Elliston, my beloved teacher, would instruct me to play a short passage. And when I got to the end of the phrase and just kept on playing, Ron would roll his smiling eyes and lovingly shout, "this time, you've gone too far!" And so it is with golf, too. I swing too hard, and move too fast, and end up with a sore back that has become quite a chronic condition. So now, I don't practice my golf swing very much, my back hurts too much between my regular Friday rounds with the fine men at Quail Lodge and Golf Club. So, every day, I practice my putting stroke in the bedroom on a carpet that stimps out at about eleven. And I make it a practice of patience..... of presence..... and of mindfulness.

When I moved to California sixteen years ago, I knew that I wanted to spend more time around this game that had become a passion. So, I pursued a degree in Sport Psychology and self-servingly wrote a Masters thesis about Mindfulness Meditation and the Anxious Golfer. For a long time, I had dabbled in meditation and in yoga, knowing they were good for me. But I had a hard time sticking with the daily meditation, even though I once attended a ten day silent meditation retreat where I sat meditating fourteen hours a day. So my most consistent meditation practice these days is to practice mindfulness while putting. I work on developing a consistent technique by developing awareness of certain aspects of my stroke that I have learned to place my attention on. Credit goes to Fred Shoemaker founder of the Extraordinary Golf School, for showing me the fundamentals I am developing distinctions of, and refining through my putting meditation practice. I won't go over those technical aspects here but I will share that with focused practice, my putting stroke has improved and at the same time, I feel as though I'm getting the benefit of meditation as well. 

As we go through these very disconcerting and difficult times, I hope that everyone in the Shivas Irons Society community and their loved ones stay healthy and lives as free as possible from suffering and anxiety. Find a way to cultivate your own mindfulness. Maybe it's watching spiritual videos from teachers such as Eckhart Tolle and Thich Nhat Hanh, or practicing yoga or going for a walk or jog in nature. And even if you are not able to move about your community, find a way to practice the game we love and develop and deepen the spiritual connections you have to golf, to yourself, and to others. Feel free to share with me your journey with developing self through the practice of golf.



In true gravity,
Ben

Comments

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Mark Goldsmith Oakland, CA
03/19/2020 • 1:55 pm

Ben talks about golf teaching presence.  That is something hard for me to achieve both during a round of golf and in daily life.  The comment about his Friday round at Quail Lodge reminded me of a round I had at Quail Lodge many years ago. I started playing well, but by the 3rd or 4th hole I began feeling ill and considered going back to the clubhouse.  I took a deep breath and made a commitment to conserve my energy as best I could and finish the round.  I would not and could not overdo.  I had no swing thought other than to swing within myself.  No thoughts of hitting far or scoring low.  Just be calm and finish the round.  I entered a zone of pure presence. Almost weightless in true gravity. I finished the round.  Although it wasn't my goal, I scored very well.  In fact it was the lowest score of my life. 

ITG,

Mark Goldsmith

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Devon Petersen Cheyenne, WY
03/20/2020 • 4:32 pm

Hi Ben-

Thanks for the post.  I'm new here, and haven't really properly introduced myself.  I've read GITK twice now, once recently, which inspired me to join SIS.  I have always been drawn to the spiritual side of golf and the spiritual side of life, and perhaps my favorite thing about golf is what a perfect metaphor and mirror it is for life.  The applications are endless.  I have recently been getting into meditation, although I have practiced yoga now for almost twenty years.  I live in Wyoming, so I spend a lot of my winters practicing putting, chipping, and pitching indoors and reading golf books and sitting and contemplating.  I don't think it's the worst thing for my game, and it makes the feel of contact and the sight of the ball flying in spring exciting and fresh every year.

I was telling people here that as long as I could golf, I'd get through this coronavirus thing just fine.  Then they shut down the golf courses here in Cheyenne the day after.  It's no big deal now, as we had a blizzard yesterday and the ground is covered with snow.  And I am much luckier than many in that I have enough food to eat and my home is heated and I can work from home and still make a living, so of course I am grateful for all that.  Still, it'd be nice for my mental health to get out on the golf course when the weather turns nice...

To your original post, I've decided to make 2020 the "year of putting."  It's so crucial to the game and the score, and I feel like I've been willy-nilly, haphazardly trying different things here and there without a systematic, inquisitive approach like I've applied to my full swing and long game.  So this year I've put it out into the universe that this shall be the year I unlock the mysteries of putting.  I've started a journal.  I've been very mindfully practicing on my putting mat, carefully considering everything from ball position, weight distribution, eye position, grip pressure, pre-shot routine, etc.  Everything.  One thing I've tried is Tiger's gate drill.  It's incredible how difficult it is to hit the exact sweet spot of the putter on such a short, simple stroke.  It makes you realize how important it is to be absolutely still throughout the stroke, on a solid, well-balanced base.  It also makes you wonder how you ever get close to the sweet spot on a full swing with an angled club face...

Which brings me to my ultimate point: one thing I've learned is the absolute vital nature of being well-balanced and solid, all in the name of sweet, center contact.  This has bled over into my long game.  Slowing it down.  Keeping my head absolutely still throughout the full swing (like Jack said), staying balanced, quiet, all in the name of center contact.  And let me tell you, it has paid off.  I think we all come out of the gates swinging way too hard, mimicking what we see on tv, trying so hard for speed before we ever learn to hit it solidly, consistently.  What a lifelong quest.

Which really brings me to my final point (I hope!): same goes for life, particularly during times like these.  Be solid.  Slow down.  Get back to basics.  Remember what matters.  Be balanced, rhythmic.  Look inside yourself.  Find that you are everything and everything is you.  Find that we create our own realities, and have a real impact on how things unfold.  Don't panic.  Take your time, and realize all you can do is focus on the process, stay in the present moment, which is all there is and all there ever will be, and that our job is to be here and experience it and be one with it and wonder at the mystery and grandness of it all.

Looking forward to connecting with my fellow seeking golfers soon.

Yours,

Devon Petersen