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In the Zone

Four sports enthusiasts put their practice into play. Here's LAURA MUNSON on riding. You'll find the other three stories — MELVIN MCCLEOD on skiing, LIZ MARTIN on golfing, and JAIMAL YOGIS on surfing — inside our July magazine.

Skiing is a beautiful blend of body, physics, and nature. Through graceful bodily movements and subtle shifts in weight you can redirect the force of gravity with your skis, describing any arc you want, at any speed you dare. When it all comes together—when technique, equipment, gravity, and the snow underfoot are one—it is winter’s dance.

It is also an unnatural thing to do. Skiing is falling down a mountain. A controlled fall, yes, but a fall nonetheless. That’s where meditative practice comes in. The problem isn’t distraction; things are moving too fast to get lost in thought. The challenges in skiing are fear and trust. Both are well known to meditators.

Imagine you’re standing on a steep hill. If you’re afraid of falling, you’ll lean back toward the hillside behind you. It’s the instinctive thing to do, but completely wrong for skiing. You have to lean forward and commit your body to falling down that hill. You can do it because you have trust in your skis.  Skis don’t just turn. They hold you up. That’s where the trust comes in. If you can overcome your hesitation and commit your body to falling forward, your skis will not just save you from falling on your face. They will work beautifully, and you will be a skier.

You know that trust exercise where you stand with your eyes closed and fall backward, trusting your friends will catch you? Skiing is like that, but in reverse. Stand at the top of the hill and let your body fall forward. Trust that your skis will catch you. They’ll take you on the ride of your life.

—Melvin McLeod is editor-in-chief of the Shambhala Sun.  

Focusing my gaze downward at the bright, white golf ball, I’m aware of the alignment of my back, the softness in my legs. Slowly I twist my upper body and hips into a coil and raise my arms back with my driver. after a slight hesitation, i uncoil as my arms and body move forward. The head of my driver connects solidly with the golf ball, and I follow through with the swing. A crisp, clean stroke. The ball flies elegantly through the air onto the fairway.

It’s a lovely spring day to play golf at my country club. Walking up the emerald-green fairway lined with dark oak trees, I notice a mother deer and her fawn curiously watching me from the shadows. overhead our resident red-tailed hawk soars, then swoops downward to land gracefully on a tall pine. This is my haven.

I'm the owner of two businesses—an insurance agency and a grass-fed beef farm. The reason I learned to play golf was to entertain and build relationships with current and prospective clients. but, as a pleasant surprise, golf has also become a release for me. When walking the eighteen holes on the course, I concentrate on my breath, which helps me keep my mind focused on the upcoming shot and remain calm and grounded in the moment.

Having played golf for over ten years, I understand how it parallels my yoga practice. Whether on the mat or on the course, I have a feeling of being present, a keen awareness of my surroundings and my intention. I realize how important it is to respect and appreciate the value of each day.

—Liz Martin is a small business owner in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Surfers are often asked to describe our passion. What’s it like to ride a wave? Why is it fun?

This is problematic.

I’m not a bird, but I imagine a bird would have a similar problem describing to humans what it’s like to fly.

Surfers are bums who produce nothing for society. And, for producing nothing, people wonder if they’ve figured out the key to happiness. So maybe it’s best to use a koan here and say: you learn everything from riding a single wave and you learn nothing at all. 

A wave, after all, has no substance. Somewhere far out to sea, the wind blows on the surface of the ocean, kicking up ripples. those ripples capture more of the wind’s energy, becoming swells. These swells—long lines of spiraling energy— appear to travel thousands of miles across the ocean. but no water is actually moving. Water molecules are simply knocking into each other in a spiraling domino dance. They’re the memory of wind. and when that memory collides with sand or reef or rock, it makes the energy invert and pitch into a breaking wave. Occasionally, miraculously, that wave can be ridden by a human—a being who likewise has trouble finding a fundamental substance. we’re also mostly water—water that’s constantly being replaced with new water. Are we just the memory of the first drop of water absorbing the first rays of sun?

How, then, to describe surfing? Water riding water? The memory of sunlight and rain riding the memory of wind? Flow? Power? Presence? Oneness? 

They all fall short of the mark. And fortunately, while riding a wave, you think of none of these things. That’s why surfing is fun. 

—Jaimal Yogis is the author of The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing... and Love.

I do things like gallop alone on my horse in grizzly bear and mountain lion territory. You’d think I was a live-in-the-moment, head-to-the-Big-Sky Montana girl, free and clear. And sometimes I am, though the truth is, it all scares me.

But there was one day when I saw my way through that fear. It was after my father died. I’d lived in the ICU with him for a month helping him die. There was no rushing that. When I returned to Montana, I went straight to my horse. I wanted to ride him to the river. To let the water wash away the spiritual scum I felt coating me from the hospital, funeral, and closet cleaning. Yet there was a problem with this agenda. My horse was terrified of water.

For years, I’d tried to change that. I’d done everything from driving him into the river with his herd to floating carrots in the water. Nothing worked until that day when agenda became intention, and I knew deeply that I had to go slowly. That day, all goals surrendered. I was simply in the moment of my grief and wanting the healing to begin.

I made reins out of the halter rope. Jumped on him bareback. Headed to the river. What is there to fear when you’ve watched your father take his last breath? I didn’t think fear or fight or speed. I simply went step by step, intention by intention, surrender by surrender. We walked to the river. I cast my fear into the pool of the present moment, and he did too. Without pausing, he stepped into the water with me on his back. And we spent the afternoon swimming that river. Free.

—Laura Munson is the author of This Is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness.

From the July 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Photo: Heidi Long

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