Tag Archives: Zen

Tough, Tougher and Toughest Critics

1891000_608271409241788_1949149654_nI remember I had a health teacher back from my freshman year of when I was in high school who sticks out in my mind for 2  distinct and pretty much unrelated reasons:

1) She was an Indiana fan while I was a Syracuse fan and our teams met in the 1987 NCAA Basketball Championship Game with that SOB Keith Smart his the game winner to down my Orangemen. (Thankfully, I’ve seen the light and I am all UConn now); and

2) She once told the other freshman health class that she thought I was someone who was extremely hard on myself, even if I kept a demeanor suggestion I was cool as a cucumber.

Why in the world she felt A-OK with describing this fact about me to 40-50 of my classmates is completely beyond me… but she was pretty accurate.

I’ve long been my toughest critic and, over time, I think I’ve only gotten harsher, in many ways.

I’ve even said if I saw someone else getting treated the way I treat myself, I would think whoever was doing that to them was a complete jerk, worthy of a smack in the mouth.

I had many years in my 30’s where I watched a few different people close to me go through the tremendous struggle of dealing with leukemia. It offered me a tremendous amount of perspective on what is truly difficult in this world versus that which is merely annoying. Funny how many people confuse those two things… well, until you see it firsthand and cannot fathom how you ever saw it differently before.

The positive of this is I complained less.

The challenge is that I probably overdid this and would never gripe or let out what was really bothering me on some issues because they paled in comparison to other struggles.

That’s why this photo (snagged from Elephant Journal) grabbed my attention to serve as a stark reminder that as much as accepting challenges with a detached sense of stoicism is good, balance is also a good thing.

It’s that funny dichotomy of that which makes you successful can also be a tremendous weakness.

To be as philosophically nerdy as possible (you know, the whole reason you come to this blog)… I need to balance out my Marcus Aurelius reading (stoicism with The Emperor’s Handbook) with a lot more Shunryu Suzuki (Zen buddhist with Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind).

Think of yourself on this point for a minute as well and I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t find a plethora of nuggets from your day where you are a brutal self-critic.

I figure 42 is as good of a time as any to learn to be a little nice to myself anyway.

Great goal… but damn, that is a seriously lame mid-life crisis.  Thankfully that’s a myth anyway.

Unconditional Confidence

One of the things I love most about reading is there’s always a chance I will have an epiphany or maybe even a more run-of-the-mill moment of clarity. It’s part of the adventure of reading a book, magazine, blog,cereal box or one of those uber-cool ancient scrolls from ages long past. Not that I stumble across many scrolls… or any. Point still stands.

One of my current reads is the book "Zen Golf" by Dr. Joseph Parent.  Dr. Parent is a PGA instructor who is also a Ph.D.in psychology and a student of Buddhism to boot. That’s a pretty full resume for anyone you can name.  The book, as its title so aptly suggests, is about using the fundamental teachings of Shambhala warriorship (a spiritual companion to Buddhism) to become a better golfer and also improve your own life in the process.

Zen Golf

I’m digging this book. No, seriously…

One section in particular has piqued my interest – it’s entitled "unconditional confidence"… and yes, it is in all lower-case ’cause that’s how those who are one with the Zen roll. Or e.e. cummings. Either, or.  Anyhoo, Dr. Parent writes:

Unconditional confidence arises from connecting with our basic goodness.  We believe in ourselves as decent people and in our golfing skills for our level of play.  This doesn’t mean we expect to hit every shot perfectly.  It does mean we can handle whatever the result is.  With unconditional confidence, our self-worth as a human being doesn’t depend on how well or poorly we strike a golf ball.  We see our nature and our abilities as basically good and the difficulties we encounter as temporary experiences.

As soon as I read that, I couldn’t help but expand it well beyond the boundaries of the game of golf.  How can you not expand it? It’s so apparent to hundreds of activities we undertake each day.

It’s all-too-often the case if we doing something wrong, mess something up, miss our exit on the highway, or hit a truly poor golf shoot, it becomes so much more than just a moment of error that should slide gently by without much thought.  Instead, we often lapse into something like “Oh my God… I’m such a moron… how could I be so freaking STUPID?!?!?”  We go beyond it being a simple event and it instead becomes a referendum on our worth as a person.

What’s so troubling about this is how easily it happens.  Right there… blink of an eye… BOOM!  Event happens and our instantaneous reaction (or at least mine, more often than I care to think about sometimes) is to judge ourselves on a far more serious and permanent basis than could possibly be merited.

This is, of course, utterly ridiculous and Dr. Parent nails it.  If we molded ourselves more into the form of a person exercising unconditional confidence, we recognize that we are good at our core, momentary errors are just that and we always can move beyond them to a better state.  Notice that unconditional confidence DOES NOT equal irrational confidence.  The former is how you bounce back because you believe in yourself… the latter is an artificial construct where we are only looking to kid ourselves into belief.  That’s sort of like the prizefighter who talks a gigantic amount prior to a huge fight to psyche himself into belief.  I think that’s a fool’s errand, at best.

So perhaps we can all take a lesson from a book on golf to be a little bit more about life.  We are good at our base core and the less we become clouded with temporary passing moments and believe in a larger sense of our intrinsic value as a person, the better we will be… and we might even end up as better golfers in the process.  Or so I am hoping for me.

The Zen of Baseball

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Growing up, I was all about baseball. It was truly one of my favorite things, from watching games on TV, going to Fenway Park with my family, collecting stacks and stacks of baseball cards or playing one of a thousand forms of the game. They were all good and I didn’t want to go without.As I grew old, all of this faded a bit. It was a slow drift over time, like a fallen leaf on a lake that starts near the shore, but gradually glides further away with each passing moment.

Ahh, but then baseball decided to strike and the bitterness that left in my mouth would last… for years. The game lost something for me at that point. Maybe I still held a nostalgic and naive fondness in my heart that was stung by the labor issues. I’ll likely never know for sure, but I did know that baseball could suck it for all I cared.

Then came 2004 when I became caught up in the improbable Red Sox run to make the greatest comeback in sports history against the Yankees and then finally break The Curse after 86 years. From that moment on, the game began its slow and subtle build back into my heart.

Now in 2011, the game has returned fully to my heart as if it had never really left from those days of my childhood where I wore a plastic Oakland A’s batting helmet and imagined I was Ricky Henderson stealing base after base. Hell, I even ponied up the money to buy the MLB.TV subscription so I can watch all kinds of baseball on my laptop, Roku player and on that powerful sweet iPad 2 I totally plan on scoring.

I think there is a part of me that truly understands why in the world this has all returned to me with a seemingly effortless grace… it’s because I miss the measured complexity, nuance and pace of baseball. It really has hit me of late that what I once thought of as slow and boring in my bulletproof, I-know-everything days of my 20’s is really almost like perfect Zen meditation when watched properly. It becomes a matter of unplugging yourself from the scattered modern lifestyle of uber-connectedness, must check my Facebook every 7.5 minutes and must keep my nose buried in my iPhone to never miss a text. I know I’ve been pulled into all of that and typically left feeling even LESS connected than ever.

Don’t you see it all the time? The classic example is a group of friends, out together, but almost everyone in their own little world checking on what everyone else NOT present is up to… while the moment to connect deeply with those 2 feet away slips by. And without a doubt, I’ve done this too.

It’s to these moments that baseball feels like a perfect antidote… to sit down and just watch a game… not while tweeting or checking out movie trailers on YouTube… but doing nothing but watching a game unfold in its own time.

So here’s to hoping for a learning to appreciate a little more richness through the lessons that the master known as baseball can provide. Time to unplug and play ball.