About Golfing Zen: This is the first in a continuing series of short essays dealing with the application of Eastern spiritual philosophy to your golf game. (The title says “Zen,” but this discussion will apply equally to the other Eastern disciplines: Buddhism, Taoism, etc.)
The superficial intent (or benefit) is that, as you apply these ideas, your golf and your enjoyment of the game will grow. However, the underlying motive is, as you are able to see gains on the course, you’ll be moved to alter your approach to life as well.
Today’s Topic: ‘West’ versus ‘East’
Before we can dig into the details, we need to start with an over-view of how Eastern and Western thought differs, in the most fundamental of ways.
We Westerners are trained from birth to use our logical, analytical, conscious mind — our ‘three pounds of meat.’ From our earliest age we learn to name, to sort out, to categorize. We may not grow up to be scientists, but we learn to think according to the scientific method, and we worship at the feet of the great thinkers: Einstein; Newton; Steven Hawkings. In a very fundamental way, we learn to distinguish — to separate out —ourselves, our people, our places and things, and our beliefs… from everything else that is ‘out there.’
Eastern thought is the polar opposite. They attempt to quiet their active chattering mind, so that their inner subconscious can emerge. Through that practice, they come to see and believe in an underlying (and conscious) universal Whole, of which they are only a part. From that different perspective, life changes in very fundamental ways. One small example: The only logical approach to conducting my life is to focus on optimizing the whole of things. Since I’m not separate from the whole, if there is really only one person in the room, then how can I ever capture things for myself, at the expense of others?
How does this apply to golf?
The Western idea is that golf is a competition, both with the opponent and also with one’s self. The basic idea is to win, to defeat that other guy. As such, we practice, we study, we try (hard). At a very deep level, we play to re-enforce our ego, our sense of worth, to others and — most importantly — to ourselves. If we don’t play well, then we aren’t worth much.
Here again, the Eastern idea is the polar opposite. Winning and losing doesn’t make any sense (if there is only one person in the room) and the Easterner knows that he can’t force anything to happen through his own will. He knows that everything happens through the Whole, and so his approach to golf is to use it as a means of connecting with the Whole, to let the Whole move the ball through him. He allows his golf to happen, he doesn’t demand that it happen.