Yoga & Golf

by Mandy Penalver

In response to an enquiry from a golfer for a Yogic perspective on his “golfing issues”.…

…What is it that draws us to the hobbies we pursue and love? Usually, what we are ultimately seeking in most of the activities we undertake is to be happy or at peace. However, we make a mistake when we attribute the happiness we experience to the activity itself or the acquisition an object, such as a ‘great shot’ in golf or a ‘great meditation’ in Yoga. In truth, the felt happiness does not belong to the activity or object but is the natural outcome of the temporary cessation of the mind at the moment of performing the activity or acquiring the object. In that moment, there is a brief respite from the habitual seeking of happiness by an apparently separate self, and the inherent, ever-present happiness of the true Self is felt. Usually, some moments after the event, the mind rises back up and claims the experience, attributing the happiness ‘derived’ to ‘the great shot’ or ‘meditation’ that ‘I did’. Thought is not aware that this phantom ‘I’ necessarily wasn’t present at the moment the shot was taken or in the meditation. This misunderstanding leaves the apparently separate self seeking the experience in the activity over and over again, engendering an attitude of ‘if I only try harder or make more effort’. This is a possible explanation for the “wasting of nervous energy whilst playing” that you have noticed. It requires an enormous amount of energy to uphold a concept of oneself as a separate, limited individual, with the resultant “concern with impressing other people” and “anxiety about results” that you mention. The relentless striving to achieve, become, deserve and attain that constitutes an apparently separate self is exhausting! Conversely, absolutely no effort is required to be the true Self of Aware-Ness, because That is what we always and only already are. This simple knowing of our own Being is the happiness the separate self seeks, but so long as it is sought in any activity or object, it will always remain elusive. Peace and happiness are never ‘derived’ from ‘something’ but always ‘revealed’ as what we already inherently are.

Your question: “whilst playing golf I often find myself spectating on myself, are there two selves?” is the very enquiry we contemplate in Yoga: who am I? When this question is deeply explored, it is impossible to find the mind-made ‘entity’ or ‘separate self’ which we believe ourselves to be. It is the very absence of this ‘entity’ which you refer to as being “in the Zone” and that is the portal for the ‘great golf shot’ or ‘great meditation’ sought by it. On closer inspection, this ‘entity’ is actually no more than the very activity of resistance/seeking, fear/desire, craving/aversion (depending on which religion you subscribe to!). It has no reality in and of itself but is a temporary, intermittent appearance in and of Aware-Ness. To be “in the Zone” is simply to be (consciously or unconsciously) one’s true Self. The “Zone” is inherently free of any wanting or end goal, and it is the very “moment”, or eternal Now, which you are attempting to “get in”, as you put it. When the apparent ‘me’ is out of the picture, a hole-in-one is free to emerge directly from the innate intelligence of the “Zone”!

The golf course and the Yoga mat, being microcosms of our lives, do indeed expose many of our “issues”, as you point out! The “critical voice in the head” that you speak of, and with which we are all familiar, is one of the ways the apparently separate self perpetuates itself, thus avoiding the “Zone”. The “Zone” is death to the separate self, and so attempts to avoid it at all costs! Incessant thinking is one of its main strategies for doing this. This is not to negate the mind, which is an extremely useful and necessary tool, especially when learning all the technicalities that golf entails.

With respect to “controlling the nervous system” or “adrenalin”: right now there are millions of processes taking place in the body. How many of these are we in control of? Only a separate self would want such control. Adrenalin is produced by a body in a stance of protection/defence, fight/flight. This is a vital, in-built mechanism of the body to protect us from danger in an emergency situation. However, many people’s nervous systems are in a state of chronic and unnecessary alertness, protecting an illusory ‘me’ ‘inside’ the body from the ‘World’ and ‘others’ ‘out there’. When this illusion is truly understood and felt to be such, the concepts of ‘me’, ‘others’, ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ naturally drop away, and the nervous system automatically relaxes.

As you have noticed, this notion of ‘me’ is not so strongly developed in young children, who are able to “swing a golf club freely”, that is, free of the constraints of a conceptual image. The “Zone” (although it can’t truly be named or described) is infinite, undivided, ever-present openness. When we know ourselves in and as that openness, the body is experienced as a very sensitive and alert flow of sensation. When our usual concept of a dense, solid body is offered to that openness, all of the unnecessary “holding on” that you mention dissolves and the nervous system relaxes. This openness facilitates a far better swing than the imaginary separate self is capable of!

The important thing to know is that nothing needs to be ‘done’ about any of this, for that would just be more of the same! It is enough to notice the mechanism playing out, which it will continue to do. This noticing needs to be free of judgement or agenda. The whole condition is perpetuated if it is regarded as a problem that needs to be fixed, or the separate self is seen as a demon that needs to be destroyed. Only an ego would want to get rid of the ego! When the complete non-existence of a separate self is truly seen, the notion of getting rid of it becomes obsolete. How can you get rid of something that never actually existed in the first place?

Read more of Mandy’s posts on her blog here. 


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