Trying to find mindfulness at the driving range

Mindfulness is not my strong point. It never has been. Finding mental stillness has too often been next to impossible. Thoughts are mostly undisciplined, caroming around and bouncing off of ideas and off of each other, creating possibilities and dead ends, both of which calling for exploration.

I’m not very meditative by nature. So as part of my investigation into mindfulness, I began reading “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki. The most important thing I have learned thus far that has been immediately helpful is learning to count my breaths as a way to still my mind. This has been helpful in many ways. When something is troubling me, this simple strategy helps me redirect and engage the moment I am in.

I am in the process of learning to give up on having any goals for golf other than enjoyment. I struggle too much with the swing. This is despite the fact that I have simplified and shortened the back swing and am slowly learning to feel the swing and understand what it needs to be. I have a fundamental problem that is not going away.

I have no sense of rhythm.

In fact, I learned some years ago that I am “rhythm-deaf” or “beat-deaf.” (You can test yourself here.) I have a very hard time keeping a beat and even harder following a beat. This affects a number of activities including singing (where being on the beat is every as important as being on key) and physical activities where a consistent rhythm is desired to produce a consistent result. Naturally it made it a real challenge to progress as far as I did playing the banjo – which really wasn’t very far. So, I also have no consistent rhythm in my golf swing. Each swing is pretty different even after hitting about 15 to 18 thousand balls in the last two years. I could probably live with this if I stood over the ball with a clear mind.

Up until a few weeks ago when I practiced or when I played, I tried to focus. I tried really, really hard to focus. It didn’t work. Not only did it not work, it made things worse. It made tight, especially my grip – it became way too tight. I started trying to do everything hard and fast and in doing so lost what little synchronization there was between upper and lower body. I would often spin-out turning my body well ahead of the clubhead, sending balls high and 90 degrees right. Or low and 90 degrees right. It was miserable and I was on the verge of quitting the game again.

The readings, unfinished and unmastered as they are, in mindfulness and Zen meditation, helped me to take a new approach. Rather than trying to focus on hitting the ball, I now try to find the moment and be in it. Clearing my head except for one or two swing thoughts, feeling the air around me, the ground beneath my feet, and the movement of the swing. Feeling the moment. I’m not quite there yet, but it is happening and as it does so, I am feeling the swing itself in a way I haven’t before. I’m also not having to worry about maintaining focus or going in and out of focus. I simply try to be in the moment – a moment that is not about stress, but about play. After all, I am only playing a game or practicing for a game.

An added benefit is that I am playing happier. Seriously happier. Even when things go poorly. I am enjoying the game like I should, like I want. This is the way it should be.

A final thing that I learned: Don’t just do something, sit there! I’m learned a lot about being about to sit and do nothing comfortably, except count my breaths. Sometimes I get up to 20. I hope to get where I lose count on a regular basis.