While I was traveling in Italy this summer, I fell ill with bronchitis. I suffered through twelve days of nearly no sleep and a miserable cough, which made me cranky and combative. When I was finally diagnosed and recovering, I took stock of the lows of my family holiday. I wished that I had been less reactive, despite my illness. The solution was to achieve the holy grail of meditation: inner peace that resembles a still lake.
I committed to meditating several times a day each day, whenever I was calm, and especially whenever I felt any emotional turmoil. Here and there I happened upon fleeting moments of transcendence, leaving me with that empty feeling of wanting more. So I pursued the meditation with additional vigor, but the more I tried, the more my ideal eluded me. I sensed no security or certainty in the few peaceful impressions. I made what seemed like a gargantuan effort to constantly anchor myself, only to tread water, instead of making strides for a more lasting effect.
My consolation was that at least I spent quality time on the golf course. I methodically worked to enhance my skills and my game steadily improved. I was so present, so in tune, that I was on a constant, natural high. It seemed that it would go on like this forever. But of course it did not. I stopped seeing the huge improvements that I was used to, and even started to expect. Two weeks passed with mounting frustration. One morning, I consistently hit to the right of the fairway. I scrutinized myself for where I had gone wrong. While deeply buried in thoughts, my golf pro asked me to step behind where I teed off to show me where I had aimed. To the right! It seemed impossible. My mind had been so fixated on the mechanics of the swing, that I had become careless about setting up to hit the ball towards the pin. I rehearsed a new way to approach the tee shot with the sole focus on the direction of the ball. My game immediately turned around.
Golf always speaks to me. When I walked off the course that day, I felt like I had traveled a great distance from the person who shot the ball to the far right, to the person who was hitting it straight down the fairway again. Focusing on the direction of the ball released me from mentally over-rehearsing my swing and flooding my body with too much information. I was in sync with the club connecting to the ball.
As I sat in meditation later that day, my practice on the mat transformed. I was able to realign with my abilities once I changed my perspective from the minutiae inside my head to the big picture in the distance. I found the courage to relax about my progress in meditation and allowed my rigorous efforts to take root, consolidate, and integrate.
Sometimes we are so engrossed with the little details that we lose track. We cannot see the forest for the trees. Step back and rediscover your path. Release the grip on the specifics. Reach the shores of the lake that is your inner peace, and open your heart to calm.
Mila Atmos is a columnist whose work has been featured by The Huffington Post, Quartz, and Medium.
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