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The Magician's Way
What it Really Takes to Find Your Treasure
By William Whitecloud
New World LibraryCopyright © 2009 William Whitecloud
All rights reserved.
THE MAGIC GOLF LESSON
For nearly twenty years, golf had been my bête noire, my most reliable source of frustration and powerlessness. It felt personal, as though the game of golf was an entity that had it in for me, and no matter how hard I tried, it was not going to let me get anywhere.
I was on my way to the golf course for a lesson with a pro called Steve Addington, and I could feel my resentment toward the game beginning to surface. It didn't help that I was stuck without air-conditioning in traffic that was moving fifty yards every fifteen minutes on a sweltering summer afternoon. "Why on earth am I doing this?" I asked myself. I thought I'd promised myself a year ago that I'd never pick up a club again. What sort of glutton for punishment was I?
But I had to go. This golf lesson was supposedly going to save my life, and, as skeptical as I might normally be, the truth is that I was in a desperate enough situation to try anything. Every wheel of my existence had begun to shudder and shake and threaten to fly off the axle. In my heart I knew that it wouldn't be long before everything I lived for was torn from my grasp and lost to me forever.
Some years back, my wife, Kirsten, and I had decided to leave the city and move to an idyllic coastal community ten hours' drive north. Our logic was that, because my business selling independent financial trends analysis was global and conducted almost exclusively on the phone, we could live anywhere in the world we wanted. Kirsten had chosen to put aside her aspiration to become an interior designer and had concentrated her energies on being a full-time mother to our two young children. Furthermore, with the equity we raised from selling our pokey townhouse, we could buy a substantial property in the country and pay the same mortgage as we did in the city. We imagined ourselves living a peaceful life far away from the manic pace of the city, settled in a spacious country manor surrounded by a sea of bucolic tranquillity. There would be chickens in the yard, we told each other, fruit trees laden with exotic offerings, and horses coming up at sunset to nibble oats out of our hands. There would be days at the beach; small, personalized classrooms for our children when they reached school age; a guest cottage for our best friends to stay in; and a relaxed, friendly, abundant environment for us to grow closer in. And of course, what a gift to our children it would be, providing them with a safe, wonder-filled world to grow up in.
It wasn't difficult to convince ourselves, and to the surprise and dismay of our friends and relatives, we sold our townhouse and moved to the country, where we did buy the country mansion surrounded by acres of dams and rivers and orchards and English-style cottage gardens. But somehow the dream never materialized. We had all the ingredients, but the cake didn't rise — the quality of life we'd imagined never came to be.
Country life, we were horrified to discover, wasn't just a look or an image; it was hard work. Noxious weeds needed management, trees needed water, animals needed feeding, gardens needed attention, fruit had to be picked, roads fixed, pipes mended, pumps serviced, grass slashed. We were trapped on a bigger treadmill than the one we'd just escaped. Everything we did was a race against time. If animals weren't fed, they starved; if plants didn't get water, they died; if vegetation wasn't cut back, it overran the place; if things weren't fixed early, they ended up creating untold havoc.
We were run off our feet from the crack of dawn to the middle of the night, and in between we tried to run a business, care for our children, and have some kind of an intimate relationship. Even the pleasures of life became a chore. We had to drag ourselves to the beach or to a romantic night out. Where once Kirsten and I had been paragons of wedded bliss, our relationship at first deteriorated until we were simply allies in a losing battle, and then finally to a point where each suspected the other of being the enemy.
The remedy to our ill-fated move seemed simple, but moving back to the city wouldn't have been as easy as it sounded. Our problem was that in the years we had been living in the country, the price of property in the city had virtually doubled, while values where we had bought were weak. We couldn't afford to move back to the city — not without losing what to us represented a fortune. The only solution, as I saw it, was to make more money. If we made more money, then we could pay others to do the menial chores that robbed us of the gentrified life we had originally envisioned.
There were two snags to this solution. The first was that to make more money I had to dedicate more time to my business, which meant Kirsten was left to deal with the unwanted burdens on her own. The harder I worked, the more she saw me as the real enemy — never mind that I was working for our mutual benefit.
To make matters worse, the gold mine I'd been lazily mining for the previous seven years had begun to dry up. Business conditions had become tough. Not only had the Internet and online search and delivery services undermined my clients' dependence on me for the most reliable information, but also the global financial slowdown meant that the organizations' budgets for external analysis had been cut back to the bone. It now cost me three times as much money as before, and that much more time, to make a dollar in the prevailing business conditions.
I was in a terrible fix. I would have to work the phones more diligently to survive, and I would also have to begin traveling again to shore up support where I had it and create it where I didn't. It was the only thing I could think of. At the same time, I knew there would be nothing to come back to if I went down that road. I would be doomed if I acted and doomed if I didn't.
I felt absolutely desperate. I couldn't imagine a life without money. I couldn't imagine a life without my family. It just seemed inevitable that a fate worse than death was slowly overtaking me. At sunset I'd watch my little boy and girl run down to the neighbors' fence and feed their horses sugar cubes. How sweet their laughter was, how complete their happiness was, how certain they were that life was only pregnant with wonderful possibility. Little could they suspect that our circumstances were squeezing the air out of that blessed life. And, even more tragically, that the only way I could conceive of improving our circumstances would make things even worse.
Now here I was, back in the city I had spurned, going from door to door with my cap in hand, doing what I could to keep the source of my life from drying up completely. I was staying with my old friend Cliff Bannister, the man who had originally persuaded me to get out of money market trading and into selling the information that financial market operatives depended on, a move that had, until recently, been one I had not regretted. One of the first people to call on me at Cliff 's stylish inner-city townhouse was another old friend and money market colleague, Kaye Lerner, who had by now graduated to being an associate director with one of the city's most prominent investment banks. Since Kirsten and I had moved to the country, Kaye had been our most frequent visitor and knew us in our latest incarnation better than anyone else. I had only to tell her the scantest details of our predicament before Kaye insisted I take the time to have a lesson with Steve Addington while I was in town. "I know how much you hate golf, Mark," she allowed. "But this isn't about golf; this man will teach you something that will change your life completely. It's a technique for succeeding at everything you undertake."
When I pressed Kaye for more details, she wasn't forthcoming. "I can't explain it, Mark. It's something you have to experience. You won't believe it unless you actually try it."
I doubt I would have gone to see Steve on Kaye's vague say-so alone, but everyone I spoke to seemed to have had a lesson with Steve and raved about it as if it were a religious experience. Even my nongolfing friends were going to see him for the sheer inspiration of the experience. In the end, it was my own desperation that convinced me. If he was half as good as everyone promised, I had to see him. It wasn't about golf, I knew; but the fact that golf was the vehicle really made me cranky.
By the time I got to the driving range, I was in a state. Thanks to the rush-hour traffic, I was late, tense, and uncomfortably hot. The prospect of hacking ineffectually at golf balls for the remainder of the day didn't do anything to lift my mood. I was feeling prickly. This Steve guy was on short probation. The first sign that this was the same old "practice this shot till you're a hundred and you'll get there in the end," and I was out of there. I was here for one thing only: the radical result I'd been promised.
It was in Steve's favor that he turned out to be an easygoing young guy with a pleasant smile that said, "Hey, this isn't life or death. We're just going to have some fun." Many of the golf pros I'd sought enlightenment from previously had the attitude that golf was an implacable enemy, and that if they didn't impress on me how seriously I had to take their training, then the battle was lost. Steve's attitude seemed to be that golf was a joke, and that, no matter what, the last laugh would always be on the game, not us. Quickly, I realized there was something unusual about this man. It didn't matter if you were on time or late, or whether you hit a good shot or a bad shot — life was about something else to him.
Every time I started with any pro, the first thing he or she did was get me to hit a few balls to see how I swung the club and then point out what I was doing wrong, and so began the long road to correcting my action. The pro either widened or narrowed my stance and got me to flex or straighten my knees, keep the left arm straight, drop the right shoulder, put the weight on the right foot and then transfer to the left, keep my eye on the ball, and so on. Then would begin the monotony of practicing each of these aspects for hours on end. And just as I'd begin getting one thing right, something else would go off. So it was an endless process of finding a corrective technique and practicing it, finding another corrective technique and practicing that.
With Steve it was different. Same as the other pros, he handed me an eight iron, asked me to hit a few shots, and nodded sagely as I sliced a couple into a foursome teeing off on a fairway to our right, skulled another ball that dribbled off the edge of the practice tee, and then hooked a couple more into the forest on our left. Immediately I felt that sickening sense of hopelessness come over me and looked to Steve for the correction that would have me hitting sweet lofted shots straight down the fairway. But Steve wasn't interested in my style at all.
"What were you aiming at?" he asked.
"Nothing," I replied. "I was just concentrating on hitting a good shot."
"Well, there you go. That's why you don't play good golf," remarked Steve casually.
"But you have to hit a good shot to play good golf," I retorted in that tone that accuses the other person of being an idiot.
"Sure you do," Steve agreed amicably. "Just like you have to throw a good throw to hit that tree over there." He turned and lobbed a ball at a slender gum tree standing fifty feet away from us. The ball hit the tree midway up the trunk. "Try that," he said, holding out a ball to me. I didn't know what he was getting at, but I was happy to oblige. Because I grew up on a farm in Africa, throwing stones was second nature to me, as it was a skill every country boy took seriously and practiced all the time. Putting down my club, I threw the golf ball at the tree. Bang. It hit the trunk in about the same spot Steve's throw had hit it.
"Good shot," he cried out, very pleased. "Try again."
I threw four or five more balls at the tree, all of them either hitting the mark or just missing.
"Wow, you can really throw," beamed Steve with genuine admiration. Then his tone changed to one of serious interest. "So tell me, when you threw the balls at that tree, what were you thinking about?"
It sounded like a trick question. I wasn't sure what to say. "Nothing," I answered guardedly.
"Were you conscious of how you were holding the ball?"
"Were you conscious about bringing your arm back? Your wrist movement?"
"Shifting your weight from your back foot to your front foot?"
"Okay," said Steve, "go back to your last throw and feel where your focus is as you throw the ball. What's in your mind as you throw the ball? What can you see?"
"The target," I answered, realizing consciously for the first time that when I throw at a target my mind sees only the very center of that target, as if I'm holding a magnifying glass up to it.
"Exactly!" exclaimed Steve. "You're connected with your target. You're one with the target. And that's what golf is about. The target. People are taught that it's about the swing, that if they get the swing right then they'll hit the target. But that's not true. It's the other way around. If they focus on the target, they'll inevitably hit a good shot."
Steve stopped talking and took a good look around us as if he wanted to make sure no one else was listening. I had the feeling he was about to let me in on a big secret. "You see," he began again in a hushed tone, "everything you've been taught about golf is a big myth. It's driven by fear — the fear that we can't hit a golf ball. Consequently, we don't rely on our natural ability. We try to control the shot with our rational minds.
"When you're playing a shot, you're standing in an invisible circle. Golfers believe that you hit a good shot by getting everything in the circle right, that if you can simultaneously control every aspect of the swing, then it will translate to getting the ball to do what you want it to. But golf is really about what's outside the circle. It's about the target. If you can go back to trusting your natural ability and just focus on the target, you'll play excellent golf. You'll be able to do anything you want."
Mmmmmhhh ... That sounded impressive in theory. I nodded and grunted appreciatively while Steve spoke, but I was skeptical. Throwing a golf ball or a stone at a target was a relatively simple task. It would compare to the complexity of golf only if you had to hit a target by throwing a small object at another small object and strike the second object so precisely that it was propelled in exactly the right direction with exactly the right amount of power. In golf, you're dealing with an intermediary object that's subject to an infinite number of variables. Hitting a tree by throwing something at it is easy. Hitting a golf ball is easy, too. Hitting it so that it lands precisely where you want it to land a hundred and fifty yards away is another story.
If Steve was aware of my skepticism, he didn't show it. "Let's try out what I'm talking about," he suggested, setting about ten balls up in a row on the practice tee.
"We'll use the same tree as a target. What I want you to do is walk up to each ball, look at the tree, mentally acknowledge it as the target, look down at the ball, and then hit it, but don't think about your swing. Keep thinking about where you want the ball to go. It's just like throwing a stone. Just stay connected to the target."
I approached the nearest ball tentatively and stood over it, nervously adjusting my stance and grip and aim, wriggling the club about and practicing a few back swings. I looked at the tree, and for the first time ever got a sense of how intimidating it was to commit to such a defined target. I quickly retreated into the comfort of my swing circle and concentrated on looking at the ball and thinking of taking the clubhead back slowly, letting it fall, and keeping my head down. And somewhere in there I thought briefly of the tree. There was a big thud as my clubhead dug into the ground behind the ball, and a tremendous shock rippled up my right forearm, almost dislocating my shoulder.
"Holy cow!" marveled Steve. "Man, you're trying to hit that ball as if the target is about three hundred yards away. It's only thirty or so feet away. Just relax. Don't worry about the swing. Just keep imagining where you want the ball to go."
The first ball was still sitting smugly on the tee Steve had placed it on. I began addressing it very deliberately again. "Don't fuss about," Steve cut in. "Just stand next to the ball. Look at the tree. Look at the ball. And hit it. All the time, keep the tree in mind. Don't worry about your stance, your direction, nothing. Let go."
Excerpted from The Magician's Way by William Whitecloud. Copyright © 2009 William Whitecloud. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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