Read an Excerpt
A New Way to Play
Golf for Enlightenment is the story of an Everyman named Adam who begins with a terrible round of golf and ends up mastering the game, an achievement he never dreamed possible. He does this through an extraordinary and mysterious teacher, a young woman named Wendy. She instructs him in things that at first seem fantastic and mystical but which, in time, turn out to contain great practical wisdom.
I didn't play the game when this book was conceived. Golf was just an image caught out of the corner of my eye as I walked past airport televisions. Then one day on a long flight from Atlanta to California I was seated next to a man who was studying a golf magazine with rapt attention. Every few minutes he called on his cell phone to Dallas, anxiously inquiring about tee times.
"You must love the game," I said casually. He turned a twisted smile toward me.
"I think I almost hate it," he replied. "I obsess about golf, and you know what? I walk off the course mad as hell. My scores don't go down. Nobody can talk to me without getting an earful of my whining. It's the worst thing I'll never let go of."
The seed of this book was planted in that moment, when a stranger blurted out his love-hate relationship to the game. If golf doesn't bring joy and satisfaction, I mused, something has been lost. Perhaps it could be brought back. The next step occurred when I met my first actual golf pro. She showed up at the Chopra Center in San Diego to be treated for a lifelong history of migraines.
"I was destined for golf from birth," my visitor told me. "Or perhaps before. I think I got my first lessons in the womb, since my mother watched so much golf on TV. It worked. I had talent, I got good. But for as long as I can remember, I've also been crippled by these agonizing headaches."
I decided to learn more about her game while focusing on curing the migraines, since the two had been connected almost from the beginning. We talked about the spiritual side of playing. Golf has always had its mysteries, but they have rarely been addressed in spiritual terms. After the visiting pro was relieved of her headaches with a course of mind-body treatments, she began to agree that golf could be approached a new way. We formed a team. She would begin a program to teach golf as part of the Chopra Center (it became the most successful first-year offering in our history), and I would try to articulate exactly what makes golf spiritual and to explore the wisdom golf can bring to everyday life. That is the goal of this book.
Why are we here? We exist not to pursue happiness, which is fleeting, or outer accomplishment, which can always be bettered. We are here to nourish the self. The self is the source of your personal reality. All perceptions come back to the self. All emotions come back to the self. All ideas come back to the self. In golf you succeed or fail according to all three.
First, perception. Golf begins and ends with seeing the ball. Minuscule sensations streaming into your body affect where the ball will go, down to one blade of grass on the putting surface. When your perception is clear and concentrated, the ball seems to aim itself directly at the hole with the force of inevitability. Golf can't be mastered without totally clear perception.
Next, emotions. Tournaments are won on Sunday because when players of equal skill attack the course, their emotions decide the outcome. Fear and anxiety are enormously amplified in this game; the tiniest tension in a major muscle group can throw the swing off drastically. Golf can't be mastered until you confront your emotions.
Finally, ideas. Golf requires creative thinking because no two rounds are ever the same. Every new lie is a challenge, and as the player looks up from the ball to consider wind, temperature, moisture, distance to the hole, angle of the club face, and terrain, there is much for the mind to ponder. If your thinking is rigid, the game can't be mastered.
My visiting pro took me on as a pupil (it is no coincidence that her name is Wendy, the name given to the teacher in this book). Because of a deep passion for cricket as a boy, I found it not too hard to learn the basics of the swing. My teacher congratulated me on having no bad habits. Some of my first shots sprayed wildly, and others landed surprisingly close to the hole. I was also astonished by the wellspring of emotions that erupted from hidden places inside me. I got frantically excited when a long putt went in; blood rose to my face if Wendy unwittingly smiled when I missed the ball completely. Any claim that "this is only a game" crumbled like a weak seawall in a hurricane.
I realized that this is one activity you cannot escape or take lightly. It holds tight, it seduces, it gives instant reward then snatches it back a moment later. In a fair world there would be a sign posted over every first tee, do not feed or disturb the game. it bites.
But the self can be your ally in taming the game. I hasten to add that you do not need a metaphysical bent to open this book. Its seven brief, pointed lessons are meant for every golfer who has devoted long hours trying to improve his or her game. Golf is a billion-dollar industry devoted entirely to hope. The results of all this effort and expense are not always positive. The "perfect" or model swing remains ever elusive. This is because a mechanistic approach, based solely on technique, has built-in limitations. By constantly reminding yourself of the many elements in a "perfect" swing, you may gain a degree of objectivity, but you lose your self. Since the self is all-important in golf, I propose an approach that is centered there.
You Can Master this Game
In our fable, which is the first part of each chapter, Wendy teaches Adam how to find himself a little more each time he returns for his lesson. "How long will it take to make me a master of the game?" he asks, not really believing she can do it at all. "We're not going to take any time," she replies. "We're going to do it now."
Now is the only time that really exists in golf. The swing is always in the present, and when you walk up the fairway to address the ball again, the present moment is once more at hand. Enlightenment is nothing more than mastering that mysterious place called now, where intention and attention come together. Wendy shows Adam how to master the ever-renewing moment, and in so doing, she teaches him how to master the game of life.
One day, very early in my learning, I had an epiphany. I had been training myself to swing at the ball in a way that will seem unique. I prepare for every shot by imagining a line that runs from my heart to the ball. I push my diaphragm in and out at the navel with a few conscious breaths, an exercise used in Yoga. This special breathing is for relaxation; the line from my heart to the ball is for concentration. Finally I place my tongue against the roof of my mouth to stop the internal dialogue in my mind-again, a technique from Yoga. When I do swing, the stroke is soft, easy, and natural. The ball soars. On that particular day, I finished my round and walked off the course. For some reason, nothing changed. My mind continued to remain quiet, events flowed around me, and I looked on whatever happened with a sense of peace.
The same soft, easy, natural style that had become part of my game continued seamlessly into the rest of my day. I remembered that in the ancient scriptures of India, the highest wisdom is to see the universe from God's perspective, not as a machine, a work of art, a testing ground for karma, or a vast theater. Certainly life has all these qualities. But ultimately, the ancient sages declared, life is lila-a game.
Lila doesn't mean a fierce combat. The divine game isn't a competition, but play for the sheer joy of it. It has the total innocence that comes naturally to young children. In that moment my epiphany was this: Lila is never lost. Anyone's life can be innocent, natural, easy-and it can soar. Until you reach that state, the stress of life will take its toll. Frustration and suffering are the result of innocence lost. As seen from the highest perspective, we are making a mistake to confine ecstasy to heaven and the hereafter. We have failed to accept the divine gift that makes heaven out of life on earth.
If you think I have taken a huge leap from a round of golf to some vision of utopia, then you're absolutely right. Come and make the same journey. It takes a leap of vision to master life and play it to the fullest. "When you look around, there is eternity in every direction," one spiritual teacher told his disciple. "People don't see eternity because their vision is too narrow. Yet nothing can alter it or make it go away."
Everyone's existence falls within narrow boundaries and habits, old conditioning and low expectations. . . . If you approach golf the wrong way, trying to manage its mechanics from the level of ego, these limitations are reinforced. If you approach golf the right way, letting your spirit be free to enjoy the lila, these limitations disappear.
Playing in the Garden of Eden
Golf is played in a manmade Eden, a garden. The setting is made beautiful to refresh the senses, and when you step onto the course you have a second chance at paradise. Approaching the game from spirit, golf is no longer about winning but about growing. As much as some people make this game their religion, they haven't yet found its spiritual core. Golf is meant to be a journey to mastery, and when you achieve that mastery, your life in general will be enormously expanded, far beyond anything you now imagine.
The Garden of Eden isn't a physical place but an inner state. Golf is so addictive, I believe, because it tantalizes us with the hope of returning to a place where spirit is exalted. It's not shooting below par but above yourself that makes the game so seductive. Who would not want to return to the joy described by King Solomon in the following lines?
My eyes are radiant with your light,
My ears delight in your music,
My nostrils are filled with your fragrance.
My face is covered with your dew.
You have made me see all things shining,
You have made me see all things new.
I am bathed in celestial light, and I have become like Paradise.
This exalted state sounds very far from practical reality. How can this really help my game? Where is the grit, the drive, the struggle? Nowhere. Mastery of golf means finding this exalted spiritual state and turning it into an everyday experience. The spiritual sages tell us that we get lost in symbols and thus forget our essence. Your score is just such a symbol. It stands for success or failure, for reaching a goal set in advance, for competing against peers and foes. Tying your self-image to your score will almost certainly taint the game and in the end destroy it as a source of pleasure. Even if that doesn't happen, the score is not a good symbol for the inner rewards of the game. Spiritual experience is not located in a zone either above or below par. Whether you call it going back to Eden or back to yourself, words are just symbols, too. The essence is taking joy in the expression of spirit, wherever it takes you.
Golf is a path, yet there are many subtle ways to stray from it. Being grim and businesslike about your game, grinding out the round when you feel you have already lost it, enforcing your private code of behavior on other players . . . this extraneous activity leads to chaos, and most players who indulge in it feel angry and frustrated game after game. I knew there was another way. Just as in life, frustration leads to bitterness, and anger destroys the capacity for joy. It's through tiny losses more than big ones that we have all forgotten the innocence of lila.
This book is about how to get it back.