I used to think
that if I had a genie I would ask for a tennis serve, one that could knock over
the empty tennis ball can set in the backhand corner of the receiver's court.
It would be under such control that it could be guided to a six-inch-square
target, and it would zing away with a high bounce. Then the ladies would fight
to play with me in doubles and the men would cower 10 feet behind the other
But the serve
that did exist for me was far short of being magical. So when I learned that
the Esalen Institute in San Francisco was going to put on a sports weekend with
yoga tennis as one of the features, I had some self-improvement in mind. One
doesn't think normally of Esalen and sports unless the sports are encountering
and catharting and breaking into tears when the Gestalt hits and things like
that. You would expect Mike Murphy, the founder of Esalen, to be a dreamy
mystic in goatee and sandals. Murphy is a dreamy mystic, but everybody says he
looks like a Stanford fraternity president. I don't know what Stanford
fraternity presidents look like these days, but you could certainly cast him in
that role if you were remaking a college musical.
include meditation, the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and playing golf with John
Brodie, the 49er quarterback, and he is the author of Golf in the Kingdom,
which is either a book about golf seen through mysticism or a book about
mysticism seen through golf, or maybe both. Brodie once talked about changes of
consciousness in 49er games, time slowing down and moments of clarity, so
Brodie is a prized recruit in the consciousness movement. "Athletes,"
he said, "get into a kind of beingness when they're playing, but they don't
have a supporting philosophy or discipline." Brodie was at the Esalen
weekend along with masters of such Oriental disciplines as t'ai chi and
I went to a
session of all the instructors before the weekend. It was the first time many
of them had met. "We have these experiences in sport," one said,
"but there is no language in which to talk about them, so no one knows
anyone else has them." Because there is no adequate language, these
experiences have remained a bit ambiguous, but they are what the late
psychologist Abraham Maslow called peak experiences, moments of exhilaration
and clarity and awareness. In sports it is the click that tells you the shot is
good before you know that the shot is good. It is another space than the one we
usually inhabit, so that you could say the feeling is one of being stoned by
the sports experience. We had a gentleman from a surfing and diving ashram who
said, "I had a diver who was skeptical, and then one day, in just 30 feet
of water, something happened, and he said that suddenly he felt absolutely at
one with the ocean, and he could hear grains of sand on the bottom, and he
spent almost an hour listening to the grains of sand, and his life has been
changed ever since."
Our aikido master
said we would be talking about energy flows. "There is an energy being in
addition to the physical being, but we do not emphasize the Oriental terms ki
or chi, otherwise people think, aw, that's Oriental stuff, and actually they've
been doing it all the time in their tennis and football and what have you. It
is enough to say, 'Cool and centered, you play a better game.' "
the Danish touring pro, came by to see what was going on. He wasn't officially
part of the weekend, but philosophically he belonged. "The egoless game
goes much farther than the ego game," he said. "The Western world is so
oriented to winning that the temptation of winning is there almost always. But,
I would like to become a better tennis player' really has nothing to do with
winning. The tennis court, seen as a mandala...."
A mandala is a
schematic or geometric representation of the cosmos, sometimes used as a
meditation object. I interrupted him. "What does that mean, the tennis
court is a mandala?"
mean anything. It is a mandala if you choose to see it as a mandala, a confined
space made an object of activity. If we are centered around the court as an
object, then the court is a mandala."
I am lucky I
caught this dialogue on a tape cassette. If you say it to yourself a couple of
times, it makes better sense.
mean it makes your tennis better?"