Surrender to the present moment, accept all that arises uninvited, void of judgment, attachment, and aversion. Identify the most workable, controlled actions that can be chosen at that moment and commit wholeheartedly to them.
What both Shannon (part 1) and Hayley (part 2) experienced and began to tap into was the transformative and powerful effect of surrender. Not to be confused with giving up, surrender as I conceptualize it is conditional and includes the key component of letting go. In the Buddhist teachings, it is referred to as “non-striving” and an essential attitude for experiencing the present moment in a pure way. A mind, freed from striving for some sort of state or feeling, is left undistracted and clear. In the same way, when an athlete suspends the overt wanting of results, they will perform to the full potential of what that moment allows.
After Hayley screamed “I can’t miss” and had a brief laugh about it, we spoke in depth about that experience. She described a shift in both her intent and focus. Her focus, she explained, sharpened as she progressively paid attention to the things she could do (swing fast, put topspin on the ball, and aim three feet over the net). She also admitted, that even as she began to hit more forehands in, there remained this feeling of excess tension about missing. “In fact, it kept building as I hit more in, so I had this strange feeling of feeling confident and worried at the same time” Hayley insightfully described. “But when you asked me to try to miss forehands that changed” she added. Hayley told me that she still felt good about hitting her forehand in but all the excess tension about missing disappeared. “It was like when I purposely tried to create this thing I was so afraid of doing (missing forehands) while being focused on only things I knew I could control, there was no way I was going to miss. And when I did miss, I knew it would not continue.” Hayley confessed, “I honestly didn’t care if I missed, it just did not matter, all I wanted to do was swing hard with topspin three feet over the net”. Hayley left the court that day with her head spinning. In subsequent lessons and talks we worked on expanding this approach to competing and certainly life.
What makes surrender powerful are the conditions under which one decides to let go. It requires you to identify first and then be completely willing to accept, second, what cannot be controlled. Additionally, you must find actions that you can choose at that moment, you believe in. Interestingly, when one traces the Latin roots of the word confidence you arrive at “con” “fides” or with faith. To play with confidence then is to move forward with faith. The uncertainty of outcomes that you desperately want to achieve and others you dreadfully hope to avoid replaced with the peaceful serenity of trusting something to the point of total surrender. That is what true confidence is.
When Hayley and Shannon began trying to miss in a meticulous way, they were learning to be more competitive not less. To “compete” means to give one’s self the best chance to win or obtain a desired goal. What most golfers get caught up in and subsequently causes the most angst is trying to win. The motivation to make a ten-foot putt is rarely a variable that will help you make that putt in a tournament. It is a distraction at the very least, and more often an obstacle to the goal. Trying to miss, or surrendering to influential actions that you can control, removes the interference that comes with attachment to results and ultimately allows you to perform at your full capability. Further, it introduces the element of play into competition.
Spontaneous play is all about surrender. You take whatever presents itself and react. Yet, the reaction is skillful, built on a foundation of previous success and failures. The driving force of play is fun, engagement, and energy. When a child plays tag with others, he will not simply run as fast as possible away from whoever is “it”. He will tease the kid, see how close to getting caught he can, risk failure to discover success. He finds a game within the game and it is in this new-found game that the true joy and skill is experienced. The game within the game in golf is to discover those shifts in perception, motivation, language, and intent that bring success closer. And they are found by pushing the boundaries and trying to fail.