What is the relationship between golf and meditation? The year was 2002; and the quest was underway to experience a connection between body and mind. The initial two-year trek was study and practice of sitting meditation at Naropa University. At the time, having played golf for some 55 years, the contemplative experience at Naropa planted the seed of a lingering question: Could there be a relationship between meditation and golf?
In 2010, when opportunity arose to attend Golf Academy of America, it felt good to take Naropa mindfulness and awareness training and practice to weekly tournament golf and study of golf management and golf instruction. However, with graduation from the Golf Academy in 2011, a connection between golf and meditation remained a mystery. Going through mindfulness and awareness motions on the practice tee and golf course were nothing but an overdose of concealed conditioning and an experience of conceptual free-will. Fortunately, persistence prevailed. In 2013 during Advanced Teaching at the Golf Academy, the lingering golf-meditation seed began to sprout and the mystery began to reveal itself.
A friend and self-taught Head Golf Professional at Sunland Village East Golf Course, Mesa, Arizona recommended Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible by Fred Shoemaker. Shoemaker offers, “If all you get out of golf is an increased ability to concentrate, it will have been well worth it…It’s fair to say that anyone who can keep his or her mind focused for two or three seconds will be an excellent golfer.” Shoemakers’s use of the word “concentration,” coupled with his definition—“the ability to focus your attention on that which you choose for as long as you choose”—added some fertilizer to the sprouting golf-meditation seed. Shoemaker’s definition sounded similar to “one-pointedness of mind.”
The Naropa University training and practice included two types of meditation: mindfulness and awareness. These two techniques are taught in tandem since they complement one another. The primary aim of mindfulness is to achieve the state of mental absorption known as “one-pointedness of mind,” in which state the mind remains focused unwaveringly on its meditation subject. The primary technique used in mindfulness is to concentrate on the breath as it enters and leaves the body. The aim is to monitor the breath with bare attention rather than trying to control it. Other methods include focusing on an external object, or by concentrating on any of the 40 traditional meditation subjects. Awareness meditation leads to the intellectual understanding of teachings and depends on the mind being in a state of conscious awareness that has been reached through mindfulness practice.
On February 20, 2016, following an additional three-year evolution of more contemplative and golf literature, golf practice and play, sitting practice, going through ego-based motions, and frequent doses of emotional hygiene, the relationship between meditation and golf began to be experiential, on-the-course. For this golfer, experience is that the item needing change from sitting cushion to golf course is the object of meditation. The breath has been used as the object for sitting meditation; and the experience has been that focus on the breath can be used to quiet the mind and release tension on-the-course. On-the-course the object of meditation for the three-four seconds before unleashing the artist to make the swing or putt has taken oodles of experimentation: golf ball, golf ball dimple, golf ball colored dot, speck of dirt on the golf ball, letter on the golf ball, body part, golf ball disappearing horizon on the back side of the ball, space between the ball and the clubface, grass between the ball and the clubface, awareness of target, awareness of the path of the club head, centering point below the belly button, et al.
Let’s go to the golf course and take a quick peek at what is working today. After preliminary distance assessment and club selection, commence the pre-shot routine standing behind the ball in the “think box” (Marriot & Nilsson, Every Shot Must Have a Purpose, 28-32). Make an estimate of the situation: confirm yardage and shot options; check lie and decide on impact of wind and ball landing area conditions. Hold the club horizontal with right hand and grip club with clubface aligned vertical; begin to quiet the mind by using the breath as the object of meditation; visualize the golfer beginning a smooth take-away parallel to the ball-target line, moving the club head to complete the backswing, sensing fluid transition and accelerating forward motion of the club head driving to impact through the ball to the target. Take a deep breath and a practice swing, as required, and move to set up—grip, aim, stance and posture—in the no-thinking, “play box” (Marriot & Nilsson, Every Shot Must Have a Purpose, 28-32). Awareness of in-out breath continues and object of meditation-concentration is a ball dimple. Reach a state of “totally engaged” with target and impact of clubface sweet spot with golf ball. With quiet mind, genuine concentration and unconditioned trust of the subconscious mind, unleash the artist within to create precise impact that sends the ball to the target. It is now time for either celebration or learning!!
The “ah-ha” moment and breakthrough on February 20, 2016 took a 14-year, emotional hygiene journey to enable waking-up and discovering a few of those dialogues and self-conversations, relationships and responses to life that curb expression of the most natural Self. The golf-meditation bridge is really quite simple: the breath can help release tension, enable quieting the busy mind and facilitate centering of the human system; and the object of meditation can be changed from the breath to a golf ball dimple. Our golf course can be a wonderful life laboratory and field of friendly strife. The only requirements are commitment to listen and openness to its infinite messages.
Marriot, L. & Nilsson, P. (2005). Every Shot Must Have a Purpose. New York, NY: Gotham.
___________________ (2007). The Game Before the Game. New York, NY: Gotham.
Gallwey, W. T. (1998). The Inner Game of Golf. New York: NY: Random House.
Shoemaker, F. (1996). Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible. New York, NY: Perigee.