NOTE: Although I’m going to be using tennis as an example in the following article, the points I make are relevant to ANY activity you can think of.
After almost two years of coming to terms with some difficult health problems, I finally returned to the tennis court recently. I forgot how much I missed playing this game, and how much enjoyment just hitting some tennis balls could be.
While my body and fitness were quite rusty, it was a fascinating mental experience to feel the skills and technique developed from 20 years of practice returning a lot quicker than I had expected.
Feeling instinct take over completely, feeling my body responding automatically to every approaching tennis ball, and feeling completely at peace with myself and what I was doing was just a magical experience.
The best way I can describe this entire experience is by calling it a “Zen-like” state. It was the complete opposite of the experience I had when I was a young, up-and-coming tennis player.
And, when I thought about it more afterward, what made it Zen-like was the following:
I no longer judged what was happening on the tennis court. I didn’t judge or blame the opponent, or the tennis ball.
More importantly, I no longer judged myself.
If I hit a poor shot, so be it. It was instantly forgotten. I just let my shots happen without judgment, knowing that there would be more shots coming up. There was no dwelling on anything.
I saw things as they were, undistorted by any judgments.
I also felt more patient than ever.
If my opponent suddenly won a few consecutive games, I didn’t let it phase me. I was patient, knowing that my opportunity would come, and that my opponent would eventually falter.
And if they didn’t falter, that would be fine too. They would have clearly earned the victory. What was the point of worrying about that?
No attachment to score
The score was no longer important. I could be winning easily, or losing easily, and it made no difference to my mental state whatsoever.
I could watch a 4-0 lead whittle away to 4-4, and it honestly didn’t bother me. Not surprisingly, the composure from a lack of attachment to the score allowed me to regain that set, and win.
But if I didn’t win that set, that would be fine too.
I want to clarify what I mean by “no emotion”. It was more like “controlled” emotion.
Basically, I didn’t get excited or disappointed by anything that happened on the court. Instead I just felt consistently happy and at ease. I was just enjoying being on the court, moving around, and hitting tennis balls.
And isn’t that the point of such an activity? Why play otherwise?
Interestingly, all of the above enabled me to relax my effort (physically and mentally). Despite the fact that my fitness was pretty awful from not playing for 2 years, it didn’t seem to matter.
So instead of making a conscious effort, I just let go – and allowed my body to do that which it had been trained to do for 20 years. This meant I experienced effortless concentration, which didn’t seem to be affected much by my overall lack of fitness.
As a result, this prevented the “trying too hard” syndrome, which causes tension, nerves, potential physical injury, and general mental distress.
Not surprisingly, all of the above resulted in a built-in state of self-belief.
I wouldn’t call this “arrogance” or “over confidence” though. It was just a belief that things would work themselves out, without my conscious mental interference.
Being present and in the moment
What hit me most of all was the fact that I suddenly came to the realisation that I was no longer thinking about anything while I was playing.
My mind was BLANK.
It was clear, calm, and unconcerned with anything in the internal or external environment.
I would describe this as a form of meditation almost.
Oddly enough, I have tried meditation many times before, and have never reached the kind of state I reached on the tennis court just recently. My mind would always be interrupted by thoughts.
But on the tennis court, I actually felt PRESENT and in the moment.
And I don’t know about you, but that’s something that rarely happens to me in ANY situation. I often feel like I’m always either thinking about the past or the future, and thinking about the present is often the biggest challenge of all.
As a result of this entire experience, I felt no tension (meaning I made less errors), and no fear (hence no tension!).
Instead, I just felt bliss and acceptance as a result of being able to let go of everything. It was a truly enlightening experience, and the complete opposite of what I experienced when I was a young, up-and-coming tennis player.
Why am I telling you this?
It’s not to gloat about my tennis abilities (because there are many players that would beat me easily). Nor is it to gloat about my mental experience.
It’s simply to point out that we ALL need to find activities that make us achieve this type of Zen-like state. The more activities, the better. And when we find them, we need to appreciate them and enjoy them as often as we can.
Then, ideally, we need to attain a similar state in all the activities we do in our day-to-day lives.
To do that, we need to detach ourselves from judgments, expectations and the pre-programmed belief that we have to master a particular activity. When we let go of these things and just accept and enjoy the activities in question, then none of the other things matter.