I was watching the Rogers Cup tennis tournament yesterday afternoon on TV. Rafael Nadal, the number one male player in the world, was striding onto the court. So was his opponent, but I didn’t notice him much.

As the game got going, it soon became clear that Benoit Paire had a wicked backhand. He also was no Nadal and I expected a quick match. After Benoit missed a fairly easy shot at the net, he leaned over and smashed his racket on the court. Then he stood up and threw it straight down, and it bounced crazily. His face was a seething mask of disgust, and I just stared. I know he’s playing for a lot of dollars but tennis is just a game, isn’t it?

Four more times during the match, Benoit launched his racket and I soon tired of his fury.

I thought back to other TV adventures, such as professional golf tournaments. A player hits the ball out of bounds and proceeds to imbed his club in the fairway carpet. Or perhaps flings his 4-iron into the woods. Clearly the world is coming to an end.

And unless you think I’ve risen above such displays of pique, I remember standing on an elevated tee with a shallow pond down below. My drive dribbled along the grass and plopped mockingly into the drink. Being the mature human being that I was, I picked up my golf bag (accompanied by a set of clubs) and flung the whole mess into the water. I stared at the offending equipment as it slowly submerged, and yelled some profanity. Seconds later, I woke up, stumbled off the tee and waded into the murkiness, eventually ho-heave-hoing the sodden package to the shore. Can you say “out of my mind”?

What the heck happens to us human beings when things go wrong? Whatever happened to equanimity? All I know is that whenever I’m starting to become full of myself, all I have to do is remember my glazed eyes as the clubs sank beneath the surface. That brings me back to earth.

Thank God.

Heaven and Hell

The great seventeenth century Japanese Rinzai Zen master Hakuin was once approached by a samurai warrior who asked Hakuin to explain heaven and hell to him. 

Hakuin looked up at the samurai and asked disdainfully, “How could a stupid, oafish ignoramus like you possibly understand such things?”  The samurai started to draw his sword and Hakuin chided, “So, you have a sword.  It’s probably as dull as your head!” 

In a rage, the proud warrior pulled out his sword, intending to cut off Hakuin’s head.  Hakuin stated calmly, “This is the gateway to hell.”

The startled samurai stopped, and with appreciation for Hakuin’s cool demeanour, sheathed his sword.  “This is the gateway to heaven,” said Hakuin softly.

Softly it is, I believe.  It’s a way of living with space around every word, thought and deed.  Room to breathe.  Often when I’m meditating, the breaths become so quiet that I don’t hear the air moving in and out.

Sometimes it’s the eyes of one meeting those of the other.  It could be for just a second, or far longer.  The moments of true contact are blessed … and they linger in the air for both of us to feel.

Softness and silence go well together.  The horizontal life of progressing towards a goal falls away before the vertical life of now.  In that precious instant, there is nowhere to go and nothing to do.  Later there’ll be time for making progress.

The brandished sword hurts the swordsman, cuts him to the quick.  All is tight, from the creased forehead to the clenched fingers to the contracted heart.  My anger hurries me away to what’s next.  It closes my eyes from true seeing.  It leaves me alone.

I wander in the world, touching antagonism and love, deficit and abundance, a wrenching belly and hands wide open.  My soul knows what needs to be done, but the rest of me may have lost the way.  And it’s all okay.  There’s no need to be better.  There’s no need for any particular thing to occur.  May I merely embrace all that the moments send my way.