When I mentioned to a friend that I had watched an online golf game, she gave me a withering look. “Knocking a ball into a hole?” Well, my external excuse is that I got interested because the love of my life enjoyed golf—and because, thanks to commentary, I began to realize that it has an intense mental side. I began to think that all golfers should practice Zen.
In the ancient world’s programs for transformation, games and crafts were often used as growth practices. Why?
Well, I’m still a beginner at understanding this. I make quilted wall hangings, so I have a craft available. The first obvious thing is that, as a spiritual practice, it’s not about result, it’s about process. We rarely want this part.
A spiritual result—like enlightenment or transformation—is not a result we can determine. The great mystics say over and over that the final shift can only be received, never “done.” So our transformational practice must be focused on process. Wanting only a great result merely makes us grasp more, and grasping shuts down our availability to change.
Second, a game or a craft requires certain skills. One of those is submission to circumstances: fabric is not a forgiving medium and a mistake with scissors cannot be repaired. In a game, one submits to the conditions and the rules. Submission is not a favorite word in American vocabulary. We’re generally more interested in taking power. Yet, if we seek to become something “more” than we experience ourselves currently to be, we must submit to the conditions of the path: things like regularity of practice, openness to newness, adjustment to the conditions of our chosen way, qualities of character like gratitude and humility.
A third obvious thing is letting go. In golf, if you can’t let go of the mess you made at the previous hole, you’re going to repeat it. In quilting, if your cut isn’t right, or corners don’t match, you must be able to let go of that and simply take the next step forward, with patient focus.
In spiritual practice, too, letting go is essential: letting go of whatever in myself stands in the way of living in greater, awareness, greater love, greater joy—also with patient focus.
What if we use not only “holy” activities, but also our crafts and games for personal expansion?