Meditation, gardening and golf have commonalities that draw me to them.
Over coffee, a friend was recently telling me about his new meditation practice. He had experienced moments of real peace and quiet in his mind, and he was excited about continuing forward. Having meditated over the years of my recovery, I felt the same peace. But my experience of meditation has been much more varied than that, and not always so pleasant.
In a sense, meditation is the practice of creating conscious space. Sometimes the practice works and the space stays open – hence the peace and quiet. Other times, the space fills with buried memories and emotions. At certain frustrating times, the space is nowhere to be found. In meditation practice, there is no final destination, no mastery. There is only the commitment to sit courageously and find out what the silence might bring.
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” – Pema Chodron
Similarly, gardening has proven to be a much broader and deeper adventure than I originally anticipated.
When I purchased my home in 2006, the garden space was poorly designed and even more poorly kept. I figured that I would cut some things down, move others around, and voila, have a beautiful garden.
The reality of creating a beautiful garden space in much messier and more demanding. The soil, the plants, the weather, the seasons – they are highly dynamic and cannot be forced to do much of anything. Every time I have been overly willful with my garden, it has taught me a lesson in humility. Conversely, when I have brought my faithful attention, effort and creativity to it in a real sense of partnership, I am rewarded with the awe-inspiring beauty of nature.
Those moments of beauty are fleeting though. The cycles of growth and death never end, and the garden constantly clamors for attention. As in meditation, the garden cannot be mastered. It can only be tended, and it responds to that tending as it chooses.
“Then there are those who plant. They endure storms and all the many vicissitudes of the seasons, and they rarely rest. But, unlike a building, a garden never stops growing. And while it requires the gardener’s constant attention, it also allows life for the gardener to be a great adventure.” – Paulo Coelho
Any player who has ever tried to play the game of golf well knows the fundamental truth of the game. Like meditation and gardening, there is no “final destination”. It cannot be mastered, it can only be played. In playing, one will experience the entire range of thoughts, emotions and results on the course.
Golf is demanding physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually. To play and score well consistently, a player must work on all aspects of the game. That work can often feel like a game of whack-a-mole with one aspect coming online, just in time for another to go haywire.
Nobody, including a glutton for punishment like myself, would play golf if there were no rewards though. Golf’s rewards are magical. Perhaps the most magical of all. Like moments of true serenity in meditation, or winter giving way to the first blooms of spring, a well-planned and purely struck golf shot is a reward like few others. Stick with the work of improving at the game, and those shots turn into rounds, and even longer stretches of pure bliss. That is why I am willing to endure the ups and downs of the game.
“Golf is a game of mistakes and unpredictable fortune. If it were not, no one would ever miss a fairway, a green or a putt. On top of that, there would be no sudden gusts of wind, no unfortunate bounces, no imperfections in the turf. Every ball would go exactly where you wanted it to go, and the winning score in a golf tournament would be something like 50 strokes per round.
If you truly love golf, you must love the fact that no one shoots 50, that golf is an inherently imperfect game. If you spend your time fighting the fact that golf is a game of mistakes and trying to make it a game of perfect shots, you’re really saying that you don’t like golf. You want it to be some other game–billiards, maybe. No one has ever perfected golf–not Ben Hogan, not Jack Nicklaus, not Annika Sorenstam. I don’t believe anyone ever will.
Golfers who understand and love the game accept it rather than fight it. They realize the essence of golf is reacting well to inevitable mistakes and misfortunes. They know they can separate themselves from their competition not by perfecting their games but by constantly striving to improve. I tell players that if there’s one thing they should always be proud of in their games, it’s how well they react to mistakes. I tell them that they will never have complete control of the golf ball. But they can control their attitudes.” – Dr. Bob Rotella
In the final analysis, these things are not my favorites because they are nice or easy or even enjoyable at all times. They are my favorites because they are hard. In overcoming the challenges of practicing meditation, growing a garden, or playing golf, I experience a fuller reward than any easier pursuit could ever provide.