Of Leaders and Projections

Group united by shared object of attention

Article 26 Of Leaders and Projections

“So what does all this have to do with the key moments of heightened awareness and intensity, be they clutch plays in a championship game, or bardo moments of intense brilliance, let alone leaders and followers or ‘group dynamics in the context of focus?’ Stay tuned….” (from Focus in Space article)

Projections are qualities we perceive in or project onto others. We are walking down a dark alley late at night; the wind is forceful, tugging at our garments and eliciting moans which echo in mournful, discomfiting tones which heighten our sense of impending doom, either from a lurking cut throat or ill-intentioned ghosts haunting this zone of prior crimes including rapes and murders.

Is this entirely imagination? Or are we picking up ‘echoes in eternity’ from prior dark deeds, so-called ‘blood on the walls?’ One never knows; probably some combination of the two.

Similarly, we project all sorts of things onto leaders. Leaving aside that each person has a unique take on any given quality perceived – from plant, animal, person, room or landscape – there is always a blending of that which a leader is projecting out themselves – are they charismatic, retiring, confident, dithering, intelligent, scheming, well-groomed, shabby etc. – and how we in turn perceive them based on our own tendencies, priorities, prejudices (or brainwashing) and preconceptions.

Now our basic makeup is to face forward and focus on something. We don’t have one eye in front and one behind – that sort of 360 degree awareness is reserved for hearing, not seeing. And with sight we don’t just see generally but focus on one thing at a time. And with hearing we tend to focus as well on one particular sound at a time; even when hearing hundreds at once, especially in complex situations like a city street or well-attended cocktail party, we often find ourselves picking out particular highlights within the general hubbub.

When a large group are gathered together they will unite as one when their mind is focused on the same object. Be it a football in a stadium, a tennis ball on a championship court, or a speaker at a political rally or even one giving a live broadcast on television during a time of national crisis.

As mentioned earlier, our minds are local versions of the formless aspects of our two-sided natures, and the formless is not bound by time or space, by beginnings and endings or distances between here and there. So when we all focus on the game together in a stadium, all of our minds melt together becoming part of a greater whole. The same thing happens to nations in times of great stress or shock; the falling of the Twin Towers in Manhattan on 9/11 brought the entire country together. I remember walking in Manhattan a month or so later having flown in from Canada and being surprised at how clean the city felt, how soft and friendly were all the people. There were few tourists, it was nearly all locals who, uncharacteristically, were all warm and cosy, glad to be alive, glad to be together; it was like being part of a close-knit family. Their minds had merged from following the great crisis they had been going through together for weeks on end and so, at least for a while, they were attuned and enjoying some sort of kinship.

Whether it is a sports team, a small business, a crack special forces unit or a nation, enterprises involving two or more people need leadership. Decisions have to be made, plans have to be executed, projects have to be managed to fruition. No matter what the particular dynamic, moments come up regularly demanding reaction, decision, change or in other words, focus, and nearly always the group needs a leader to point out such a moment and provide direction for how to handle it, otherwise the various individuals in the group might each come up with a different approach and the result is a loss of common purpose or action.

This is a very ordinary thing, basically, and we have all experienced it constantly throughout our lives. The point of this Article is to highlight just one particular aspect of the leadership dynamic even though of course there are many, namely the aspect of projection.

Earlier, I mentioned how Tom Brady the NFL quarterback, for example, dwells in the minds of many fellow team mates and fans as a living icon, similar to a king or knight of old. Not only is this a source of inspiration and focus, but by taking on their projections of him as The Great One, so to speak, he can then channel their attention and lead it to where he wants it to go, which in his case – as he has often stated – is into their becoming the best team possible working together towards a common purpose which is to play up to their best potential and thus in the end emerge victorious. So he channels their focus on his leadership qualities into inspiring – and no doubt also cajoling – them to be the best that they can be, 24/7, seven days a week, not just for three hours once a week on the field.

Who knows if Tom really has the qualities his players and fans see in him, or whether they are imagined? Similarly, what does it matter if President Biden is actually the kind and wise uncle figure leading a nation through a time of turmoil caused in part by his predecessor and in part by a world wide flu outbreak? It’s very hard, and probably a waste of time, to try to pick through objective evidence (if there indeed is any such thing in this sort of terrain) to find out who the real Joe Biden is, what the real nature of the national situation was and now is and so forth. That’s all water under the bridge in some sense; what matters is any given ongoing dynamic now.

The function of propaganda is to channel the attention of the population away from Xes and into Y’s. One of the favorite Y’s is – at least in America – the President. We have many minor other leaders that engage us from time to time, principally so-called celebrities which include movie, television and sports stars, but in terms of national moments and national thrusts, the object of attention tends to be the President who embodies the desired messages which have already been delivered piecemeal through many different events, newscasts, text articles and so forth. When the President speaks, he speaks for us all in that moment and unites the country in focusing on that mutually experienced object of attention.

Of course the qualities we end up projecting onto that Leader are all highly subject to manipulation. If we are told and convinced that he or she is wise and noble, we will project wise and noble qualities onto that person when we see or hear them performing; conversely, if we are told and convinced that he or she is a despicable crook, then we will project all sorts of ignoble qualities onto them when we witness their performances.

Now of course in the case of leaders in modern democracies, they are usually there by virtue of elections wherein one political faction has bested another and so any given President is usually passionately supported by about half the population and only marginally supported, or outright detested, by the other half. This split in the projection vector of the population greatly diminishes the leader’s ability to unite the country, but that’s another issue perhaps for another time.

For now, let’s just leave it that leadership, which is a natural and needed function in human groups small and large, involves harnessing the projections of followers into desired group endeavours, be they wise or foolish, noble or wicked, uplifted or degraded, civilization-building or decadent. This only works because of the root projection, as it were, namely that this person IS their leader. Without that projection in place, they would lack any authority to inspire followership, kinship, respect, loyalty.

All leadership depends upon the projection of leadership qualities onto the leader by the followers, be such leaders in small tight-knit family circles or in large national situations.

The Great Switcheroo

From the Switcheroo Photo Project at http://photographyblogger.net/switcheroo-photo-project-by-hana-pesut/

Article 25 The Great Switcheroo

What happens to a fish taken out of water? It soon dies and so is soon no longer a fish. Does the fish exist separate from the water it is born, lives and (usually) dies in? Similarly, do any forms exist outside the container of space? No. Now leaving aside any concerns about what exactly is meant by the word ‘space’ for it could be just a fancy label for ‘nothing at all,’ isn’t it interesting that, just like zillions of fish, we all – and by ‘we’ I mean all life forms – share the same ocean of space.

If we all swim in the same ocean, are we really – each and every one of us – truly independent, individual, separate entities?

Before answering that, let us also consider: every single form aspect we witness is unique and particular. You can have two chairs side by side made by the same carpenter but they are in different places; furthermore each spot on each chair is unique, particular, the light shining at a slightly different angle, the wood being ever so slightly different, the threads on the upholstery changing from one nano-location to the next. We don’t even need to get quantum on this. Every single thing in the realm of form is unique. With our own bodies, for example, every single spot on our body is different from every single other one, whether it is the obvious differences like nose versus elbow, or endless differences like one spot on the little finger’s fingertip versus the neighbouring spot. So in the realm of form we encounter literally infinite layers and levels of particularity. Put another way: nowhere in the realm of form is any single thing the same as any single other thing.

And yet in the realm of the formless, there are no particularities, no details, no beginning, no end, no this, no that, no up, no down, no in, no out, no place, no time – no nada nowhere no how!

So what’s the Big Switcheroo? Simply that nearly human beings, aka ‘we,’ operate under some sort of mass illusion or delusion, summed up beautifully by Descartes’s famous ‘I think, therefore I am.’ It makes sense in a simple fashion and probably most of us can go along with it easily. But just because you are thinking, does that really mean that you exist as a unique ‘you’ or ‘I’? Yes, every single aspect of reality in the form realm is unique and particular as stated above, but is the spot on the chair really separate from the rest of the chair? Is the I that is thinking separate from the world it is thinking in? Many of us imagine some sort of ‘Little Me’ somewhere in the middle of our heads, presumably in the brain, some sort of ‘President of the State of Me.’ Come to think of it, that’s how we imagine our Presidents, as a man or woman somewhere controlling everything that goes on everywhere in the entire nation.

This sense of being an independent entity is known in Buddhist jargon as ‘ego’ so that usage is not quite the same as in psychiatric practice perhaps. The idea is about how we believe there is an independent, permanent entity – known as ‘me’ – that exists somewhere even though we know that in fact we are all part of the same all-embracing larger universe contained in the same all-embracing space we all share.

I like to say that fishes are the eyes of the ocean. The ocean, if you like, is a great field of awareness but in order to see itself it grows organisms with eyes. There is an old Buddhist text written many centuries ago, by a yogic philosopher called Longchenpa, translated in one version as “You are the Eyes of the World.” That text features a first-person voice talking to the reader, and this first person voice is ‘pure and total presence’ or ‘I, Creative Intelligence.’ The idea is that we all live in the same ocean which is an all-accommodating space, which also is awake, alive, intelligent. In other words, our own innate intelligence comes from the underlying intelligence field in which all living forms live, just like fish living in the ocean. We think of the phenomenal world around us as being essentially dead matter out of which, through physical chemical reactions, some sort of life emerged, almost miraculously. Some scientists have even managed to recreate this apparently. However from the point of view of this old text, the source of life is the living intelligence field we all live in which exists, like all formlessness, before and after birth, before and after time, before and after form.

So although there are limitless particularities in the realm of experience, nevertheless the notion that we exist as fundamentally solid, permanent, separate entities is an illusion. That is the Great Switcheroo. Or perhaps we could say, more positively, that the Great Switcheroo is when you flash on how your notion of being an independent, solid Ego is empty, illusory.

Let us end this one with a quote from Longchenpa’s text, this one being part of three verses explaining how Body, Speech and Mind – the three spheres of experiential being – reflect and are reflected in this universal continuum. In this case I chose the Speech verse since I had an Article entitled ‘The Realm of Speech’ a couple of posts ago. The language is a little academic, but no matter:

Listen:

This teacher of teachers, the majestic creative intelligence,

Displays the integrated structure centered around the inner reality of communication.

Everything that exists and is designated

Displays itself as linguistic communication coming from the unborn field

And is gathered into this inexplicable inner reality of communication,

The supreme Ordinary Principle’s symphony.

Hopefully this text makes sense in the light of the last few Articles. Personally, I enjoy contemplating these things. Not in long-drawn out Big Think sessions, but just allowing them to lightly arise, butterfly-like, in various moments in daily life. I hadn’t read this in over thirty years but in the course of offering up this spontaneously arising collection of articles, remembered that I was sort of going where Longchenpa (1308 – 1363) had tread so many centuries ago.

This two-sides aspects – including masculine and feminine in the human realm experience – is especially fun to start picking up on. And indeed this article got caught up in one, namely that our universe comprises both limitless particularities in the form aspect contained within the formless aspect which features none. In a way, reality is the formless growing forms so that it can appreciate highlights of experience by creating a universe of limitless particularities featuring location (space) and movements of varying duration (time). It’s a gi-normous production, a collective dream in which we are all both dreamers and the dreamed.

Masculine and Feminine, Take One

Masculine and Feminine embracing in Formless Void

Article 24 Masculine and Feminine Take One

(edited from initial July 21st version)

As contemplated and systematized extensively in the Chinese yin-yang theory tradition, it seems we live in a world that always has two sides. In Buddhist philosophical jargon these are called ‘form’ and ‘formless.’ There are many other such pairs such as:

masculine and feminine
inner and outer
higher and lower
forward and backward
heaven and earth
visible and invisible
mind and body.
Although there are always two sides, and although each is inseparable from its symbiotic mate, they always remain different, just like electricity’s positive and negative. So they are not two, but neither are they one.

Again, we in the land of the visible and living cannot see what is in the land of the invisible and not living. Now of course there are no end of stories of those who have crossed over or with deep insight have seen through the ‘illusory veil of the material plane’ and so on, but leaving that sort of thing aside, let us agree to keep things simple: for example, in terms of body there is inside and outside. You might then argue: ‘but if we cut open the body we can see inside, so where’s your separation gone to then?’ Well, what you are looking at is no longer inside, you have made it outside. Put another way: can you expose the inner experiences of sight and hearing by digging behind the eyes or ears? No. Either you will extinguish those faculties by damaging the organs or you will find nothing. You can examine brain matter and nerves all you like, but you will not find sight or hearing in any physical matter because such things dwell in the inner, experiential mind realm, not the outer body realm of matter.

In this way our experience is actually part of the invisible, the intangible, just like sight within or beyond the eyeball or mind within or beyond body. Mind, then, is the invisible part of the equation which affords us the ability to experience, and most likely is also that which is a sine qua non of being alive at all. But even though it is an indispensable part of life, that doesn’t make it a thing with particular location, substance or dimension. Whether you look at it from the perspective of how we experience things or in abstract deductive terms, we always have the two that are neither one nor not one.

So leaving aside legalistic quibbles, we can agree that generally speaking there are always two sides at play, such as visible and invisible, inner and outer, form and space. Now these latter seem like somewhat abstract philosophical principles but they are directly experienced in everyday life. With form and space, for example, all around we see forms: plants, animals, ourselves, rocks, buildings and so forth, all of which are in perpetual motion; if they are all in motion, then there must be something – let us call it space – that is accommodating all such phenomena, something they are moving through, as it were, and yet isn’t really there, much like fish moving through ocean except here the space is entirely intangible without properties like boundaries, particular location, distance or time, and never changes from moment to moment. In the philosophical jargon, it is described as ‘unborn and undying, limitless and without characteristics’ all of which are bundled into the shorthand term ‘formless.’

Now comes a third aspect, namely that each couple has unique particularities, energies, vectors, character, atmosphere and so forth which were described as qualities in the Realm of Speech article. Perhaps we can define such qualities as aspects of our inner experience of outer phenomena, our personal invisible realm aspect of the outer visible realm.

So two gives birth to three, the third being the many and varied qualities emanated by the first two. This is like a human couple: you have a man and a woman – the two – and then you have their relationship or manifestation together as a couple, a third element. This, I believe, is why the Chinese invented trigrams very early on because this third aspect is always there and so must be included in any language describing and interpreting reality, our experience albeit starting from a yin-yang binary postulate. Put another way: we have mind and body and the third aspect – which is the combination of the two – is our experience of them. So this third aspect is where the rubber meets the road, the spice in the sauce, the mojo.

And now all that has been laid out, we can later on explore various colourful aspects of experience without needing to reference so much philosophical-sounding verbiage. I especially find the masculine-feminine dynamic of interest because it is very close to human bedrock experience so less abstract and also quite fascinating when you take time to examine it, not necessarily in terms of current political controversies, though they are bound to come up in any discussion of the topic these days, but just as qualitative experiences and perspectives, how they work together, how they differ, blend, attract, repel, dance – or whatever. The photograph at the top naturally demonstrates many of the principles touched on in this article. We can see
• male and female hands – in embrace
• each enfolding and being enfolded by the other
• the male palm facing down from above with the female palm facing up from below yet
• with his thumb on the bottom and hers on the top
• their seamless complementarity
• the black background accommodating all, a formless void container of the form which is
• the two hands in embrace featuring passion, colour, living tissue, connection, warmth, heart, life.

So there’s a lot going on in this simple photograph; just as there is a lot going on with all and everything all the time. This reminds me of two probably related poems, the first from Auguries of Innocence by Blake and the second by Alfred Lord Tennyson::

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
https://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/blake/to_see_world.html

Flower in the Crannied Wall
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
https://kensanes.com/flower-in-crannied-wall-tennyson.html

(Which link has an interesting critique by a Zen master who makes some excellent points but in so doing misses the sense of wonder and appreciation in Tennyson’s simple, yet pithy, composition.)

The All-Pervasive Realm of Speech

aka: Who’s talking?

Article 23: The Realm of Speech

This writer, like many I suspect, can get a little entangled in his own verbiage. Perhaps this is because I began to see common threads and themes in this series of articles and started to feel obliged to explain thematic linkage even though there is no intention, or need, to knit them together. Some sort of mosaic-like pattern might emerge, but there is no need to decode it. Let them all shimmer on their own, like sparkles dancing on ripples. That said, one idea leads to the next and, given they are all generated by the same individual, obviously there will be some overlap, repetition, what have you. In any case, this little conundrum has brought up the idea of offering up a short piece on the speech principle, so here goes:

From the “Liturgy for Learning from Lyme & Chronic Disease” text:**

Flowers in their flowering communicate the lovely enlightened language of Flowering Being
With manifold qualities of form, texture, colour, temperature, scent, beauty, sensitivity...
...All such forms together weaving karmic spells of interdependent being
Living languages of meaningful qualities - which some call 'gods'
Continuously broadcast and received throughout the dreamlike experiential continuum

The idea being explored today is the notion of ‘living languages… being broadcast and received’ which was introduced with: ‘flowers in their flowering communicate the lovely, enlightened language of Flowering Being with manifold qualities…’ Let us pause to reflect on the word ‘qualities.’

Flowers are rich in qualities

The shape of the petals says something.

The freshness of the colours on both petals and leaves says something.

The way the branches reach and the leaves form around them to catch light says something.

The way they move in the breeze says something.

Their scent says something.

Everything about them is speaking, talking, communicating. And “as with flowers so with all, from microscopic universes to macrocosmic spiralling galaxies.”

In human speech, vowels and consonants create various audible forms which we learn to distinguish and decypher into concepts which we find meaningful both as practical information, narrative structure or emotional transference.

Flowers do not use our language of vowels and consonants either via a voice box or as words on a page, but that does not mean that they are not speaking. They are communicating ‘Flowering Being’ every second of every minute of every hour of every day. All of them, everywhere. As are all living and non-living forms.

Take a rock. Well, for that matter take a mountain! A mountain has a large, looming presence. Sometimes it even seems alive. Always it effects the atmosphere of whatever is nearby. But take a rock, a pebble in the hand. It too has patterns expressing various qualities in the weight, substance, texture, colour; each rock is replete with its own menu of qualities which, together, make each rock unique.

In any case, this realm of qualities is experienced by us via our mind and senses, but our appreciation of the various qualities we are encountering continuously in our experience as living beings constitutes a form of language, some sort of exchange of message between one form and another. The flowers are indeed talking to us in their own Flowering Being language, a language we understand very well in our own way, though no doubt bees experience different messages from the same forms based on their own ways of broadcasting and receiving messages in the form of various qualities.

Wearing clothes at all is a form of speech. Are you wearing a suit and tie – or feminine equivalent – or Tshirt and jeans? Are your jeans ragged and ripped and dirty, or clean with a fresh colour and good cut? Are your shoes polished or scuffed? Is your posture upright and uplifted or stooped and beaten down? All such qualities are continuously broadcasting and receiving no end of information.

Many civilisational cultures engender a heightened sense of atmospheric qualities, indeed such shared culture is elevated to a living art form such as Japanese tea ceremony or sacred religious ritual or pageants or formal theatre or dressing up for a coronation – for a wedding for that matter.

Indeed, this realm of Speech involving all-pervasive sending and recieving of qualitative messenging is one of our greatest treasures as living beings. Indeed, it might be hard to say if that is not the prime reality, so to speak, rather than the physical base. Since all forms communicate qualities, maybe the qualities come first and the forms second?

Food for thought….

** The longer section from which the few lines at the top were extracted:

All beings in this self-dreaming universe present aspects of:

Body – some sort of shape or form

Mind – some sort of consciousness, awareness or intention

Speech – some sort of communicative expression of meaningful information singing a

Living symphony of ever forming and reforming clouds and waves of Primordial Intelligence

A marvellous holographic self-mothering Song making itself up as it goes along

Saturated in interconnected living presence pervading all and everything

Manifesting no end of self-organizing life forms

Living creatures imagined into sentient being

With all their coemergent elemental and inanimate phenomena.

Flowers in their flowering communicate the lovely enlightened language of Flowering Being

With manifold qualities of form, texture, colour, temperature, scent, beauty, sensitivity.

As with flowers so with all, from microscopic universes to macrocosmic spiralling galaxies

Multifarious microbes permeating soil and all life forms, primordially awake plants,

Majestic trees, incredible insects, fabulous fishes, beautiful birds, marvelous animals

Minerals, metals, crystals, silver, gold, jewels, rainbows, sky, stars, ocean, wind, clouds

Rain, sunlight, moonlight, thunder, lightning

Mountains, valleys, jungles, deserts, farms, steppes, rural, urban, stormy, placid

Earth, water, fire, air, red, green, blue, yellow, purple, indigo

Visibles, touchables, smellables, tastables, audibles, edibles

Perfumes, spices, herbs, meats, fats, oils, vegetables, fruits, sweets, sours, fermented

Wools, cottons, furs, silks, costumes, uniforms, males, females, dressed, naked

All such forms together weaving karmic spells of interdependent being

Living languages of meaningful qualities – which some call ‘gods’

Continuously broadcast and received throughout this dreamlike experiential continuum

All basically empty, basically luminous, basically workable, basically good.

Spacious Attention

SPACIOUS AND COMFORTABLE WITH METICULOUS ATTENTION TO DETAIL | Ontario Luxury Homes | Mansions ...

Article 22 Focus in Space

In the previous set of articles, have been hovering around a cluster of ideas like a butterfly, lightly touching on one before flitting to the next. But they are all very much related being different flowers, if you will, on the same plant.

Some of the elements:

  • heightened moments: how the top tennis players use key moments of challenge to raise their game. Recently I saw an interview with Tom Brady in which he specifically discusses this, explaining how many great games come down to a few key moments and how some players raise their game in such moments and make the plays whereas others falter.
  • Finding wisdom in such heightened, and thus emotional, moments.
  • Intensity: going into the light in any given bardo experience, be it during a shift-phase in daily life, or the Big Kahuna after physical death.
  • Group focus boosts the awareness field.
  • Leaders and followers

So some sort of combination of focus, general awareness and meeting or embracing emotional intensity.

This piece is about group dynamics in the context of focus, but first a little interlude from a part of a nice dream I had last night.

I was sitting on the front porch of a cabin we lived in seemingly in a rural area, a clean but second world village type situation, abundant with trees, flowers, butterflies and birdsong. I was meditating in a seated posture with feet on the ground below the deck. I was very relaxed. A ways away but still in my field of vision a local woman was doing some gardening work; we did not look at each other but each was aware of the other’s presence. As I meditated I realized that my mind should be transparent, it shouldn’t be filled with the project and process of meditating so that if she cared to look up and examine my state, she wouldn’t think: ‘oh, look at him, he’s meditating!’ So I settled in more letting the mind become more and more clear and ordinary. At some point I adjusted my hands to be folded together in my lap in a natural way. At that point I could hear my wife approaching down the gravel path to my left, still out of view and again I reflected that when she came into view and saw me, she too should not be able to tell that I was ‘meditating’ per se, rather that I was just sitting there simply, awake and present.

There are two aspects here of interest, namely the clearing of the mind into a natural, ordinary state, and the wakeful quality similar to having a sense of focus, though focusing on what exactly is always an open question. Some meditation techniques have the practitioner focusing on the breath, others on body sensations, others on a visualization – a deity or abstract visual pattern – and others on a drawing or physical object. The great American philosopher William James recommended that people focus on the tip of a pencil for a minute or so at a time in order to increase their powers of mindfulness, for example. It’s a good technique. I used to like to watch a second hand move through an entire minute without wavering.

But in natural or ordinary style meditation, the object of focus is the mind itself, the mind underneath or before concept, before chatter, before any notion of meditating. In a text I wrote to help get through a period of intense illness, the final meditation part – which is, like in the dream and ordinary meditation without content, known in Buddhist jargon as ‘formless meditation’ – it says:

“The imagined situation dissolves like mist over a lake in the morning sun

Leaving body and surroundings free of any past or future, project or progress

Effort or ease, holding or letting go, sad or happy, sick or well

Not following any internal story lines, clean-hearted, playful, a carefree child of Nature

At one with the birdsong: fresh, simple, relaxed, present, awake, naked.

The shorter text version goes:

“The imagined situation vanishes like mist over a lake in the morning sun,

Leaving body speech and mind at one with the birdsong:

Present, fresh, ordinary, naked, awake. “

We might say that the birdsong is the object. Except it isn’t, rather it is heard clearly without distortion because the meditator is not otherwise preoccupied with discursive internal chatter.

This reminds me of a scene in Lord of the Rings: Gandalf and Frodo have been discussing the history and significance of The Ring when Gandalf notices that the ongoing background sound of sheers clipping this and that has stopped and there is now silence. That silence is like the mind without agenda. (Of course this is because Sam became fascinated with stories of Rings of Power and Elves and Dragons and, in true hobbit fashion, forgot to keep clipping away and so got caught eavesdropping. For that momentary lapse in concentration he ended up being almost burned into a cinder on Mount Doom – but that’s another tale for another time.)

Now here’s a little twist: in a way, we could say that everyone is always ‘meditating’ all the time in the sense that our minds are dwelling on something or other. It might be sex, money, rock and roll, politics, personal status, items in a shop window, juicy gossip shared with a friend or neighbour – whatever. In all cases we have ‘placed our mind on an object.’ So the issue is on what object is the mind placed? If one meditates endlessly on stealing, one will end up a thief. Anything we put our minds on or into in turn shapes who we are, what we do and what happens to us.

Formal Buddhist-style meditation is no different in principle but the object is not sex or money or success or even becoming a good meditator or enlightened; rather the object of meditation is the underlying nature of the experience of living itself, the purpose therefore being to touch into basic ordinary reality. That is what is meant by being present. Being present doesn’t mean that one is screaming to oneself about paying attention, nor is it being glommed onto the pencil tip or the sweeping clock hand second by second. Such things might be good for training purposes, but at some point you have to get real, and getting real means being ordinary, simple, direct, straightforward.

So what does all this have to do with the key moments of heightened awareness and intensity, be they clutch plays in a championship game, or bardo moments of intense brilliance, let alone leaders and followers or ‘group dynamics in the context of focus?’

Stay tuned….

Band of Brothers

Super Bowl LV: 3 takeaways from Tampa Bay’s victory over Chiefs | Las Vegas Review-Journal
In the bright lights of the arena!

Article 21 Band of Brothers

When two or more face hardship together, they bond in fellow kinship. When a couple share passionate intensity, their intercourse produces new life, new kin. Life is born out of struggle. As an inner voice proclaimed to the actor Jon Voight in a moment of intense personal hardship when he prayed asking why everything had to be so hard: ‘it’s supposed to be!”

This may or may not hint at another proof of life after death in that the climax ending of one process always leads to something else afterwards, but that is not the subject of this piece. Rather, the idea is to just touch on the notion of shared intensity, of how going into a ‘bright light’ situation together, results in fellowship.

After the 2021 Superbowl, the US sports world – or at least those who still follow the NFL which has allowed partisan politics to enter their arenas too much of late and driven many life long fans away, at least for now – has been all ago about the legendary veteran quarterback Tom Brady, who went from a dynasty he helped create in New England, playing for the Patriots, to an historically under-performing team in Florida, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – or now Tompa Bay Bucs as some call them. They had no training camp or pre-season because of COVID – indeed they were not even allowed to meet individually during the spring months – and yet he went down there, helped push for a few key additions to an already talented team, persevered through a difficult early and middle season and ended up with an eight game winning streak culminating in holding aloft the Lombardi Cup in his new home stadium at Tampa Bay, the first time a team whose city was hosting the Superbowl had done so. Quite a feat.

Numerous videos have been made, some by established outfits, many by amateur You tubers combing through pre-existing materials. There seem to be two main themes emerging. One is that the long-established myth that New England had some special system thanks to their coaches, especially Head Coach Bill Belichek, no longer really holds up, meaning that Tom Brady had more to do with their success than his many critics for many years had insisted was not the case. In current rankings he still comes third (or lower) behind Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rogers, both of whom are widely acknowledged to be far more ‘talented’ quarterbacks. Famously, Tom Brady was the 199th pick of his draft year out of 259 total; interestingly, none of the six other quarterbacks drafted before him have names that anyone – except hard core fans – would recognize. In other words, the criteria the experts use to evaluate ‘talent’ seem to be lacking in certain areas, something they often dub ‘intangibles.’

So what are those intangibles? In a word: leadership. Football is a tough, complicated and extremely confrontational sport involving two teams, one on offense, one on defense, in combat with each other. Each franchise team is itself comprised of two teams, its own offensive team and its own defensive team. These two teams are never on the field at the same time; the defense plays against the opposing side’s offense; the offense plays against the opposing side’s defense. In contrast to tennis, which pits one individual against another, NFL football is a team sport par excellence.

(That said, if you listen to the post-championship speeches by the leading tennis professionals, they always thank their own ‘team’ for all the hard work that went into this latest victory, and often congratulate their opponent’s team for everything they did too. Turns out there is a team dynamic in tennis too, even though each team only fronts one individual champion in actual combat against the other team’s champion.)

In terms of the team aspect in the Tompa Bay Buccaneers story, numerous videos have been published recently going over this. The talking heads in sports are obsessed with whether or not Tom is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) and debate it endlessly, every such debate being fatuous and boring – at least as far as I can be bothered to watch any of them. However, when Tom is asked about such things, he always points out that football is a team sport. When he gives speeches after matches, he always congratulates the entire team, which includes the coaching staff (about 50 people in Tampa Bay apparently). He maintains relationships with all the players, though last year’s COVID restrictions curtailed that somewhat, especially in terms of his getting to know players in the defense; and if you listen to many of the interviews by the defense – with whom Tom never plays and never will – they too were highly inspired by his presence on the overall team.

This is because Tom is a winner. He has won 7 Superbowl rings and been at three other Superbowls on the losing team. But just getting to the Superbowl is something that only a small percentage of all the NFL professional players achieve, let alone many times. No other quarterback now playing, for example, has won more than one Superbowl ring. Tom has seven and is a favorite to win again next year given the entire team who won last year is coming back and this year they have time to practice together. Such a winning record makes him a living icon in the minds of his team mates especially, but also most young players (and fans) in the NFL realm. In their minds, he is a type of bright light, radiating a sort of aura in the mind which all great leaders inspire. Whether the aura exists or is imagined matters not at all: functionally speaking it is there. That aura lifted up the entire Tampa Bay organization as their coaches have explained many times. When they won the NFC Conference Championship against the extremely gifted Green Bay Packers led by Aaron Rogers, widely regarded as one of the most talented quarterbacks in the game’s history (and yet who has only won one Superbowl), the Head Coach Bruce Arians said that the victory was all due to ‘one man,’ Brady, because he knows how to win and he inspired the entire team to believe that they could win too. Many of his fellow team mates say the same thing. Turns out that Brady’s leadership intangibles, just like courage some say, are contagious.

In some sense, winning is over-rated. But the desire to win and the effort it takes to do so consistently involves a huge amount of discipline, otherwise known as ‘hard work,’ day after day, not to mention playing through injuries – which it was revealed a few days ago that Tom did the last few games, injuries much more painful than previously reported. What is of most value, perhaps, is not the winning per se, but rather the path, the journey, the process. Indeed, as Tom was walking through the underpass into the wide open Superbowl arena a few yards ahead, he turned to the team mate beside him and said: ‘what a journey, eh?’ As the old Buddhist saying rightly points out: ‘the journey is the goal.’

Leadership involves inspiring a group of men – at least in the case of football and most military combat – to head into ongoing difficulty and find a way to prevail. All such groups need leaders in order to come together as a winning team, a group that prevails, a group whose story is one of victory not defeat, glory not degradation. Their sense of camaraderie is what fuels the passion that drives the hard work that inspires the courage even in the face of death. The bright aura around any great leader inspires his followers to enter the arena together, to face whatever challenges arising therein, to give it their all, sacrificing even their lives if necessary, on the field of battle.

In this way, for example, racism is clearly transcended, whether on the field of football or life-and-death military combat. Men who face great hardship or death together become a veritable Band of Brothers. There is no black or white race among those sharing a foxhole being bombarded by enemy mortar fire, each man perhaps about to be blown to bits any moment. They are brothers.

Facing hardship, entering intense bright light zones of ‘men in the arena’ creates kinship, fellowship – or again as in the case of a couple embracing the intensity of love and passion: new life, a new family.

Proof of Life after Death

(a slightly playful take on a somewhat serious topic)

Is There Life After Death? Quantum Consciousness and Beyond | The Ghost Diaries
An open question or foregone conclusion?

There are generally unacknowledged limits to the much-vaunted ‘scientific method.’ Leaving aside the not inconsiderable corruption quotient wherein Industry A pays for a study proving that what Industry A is selling is ‘scientifically proven’ to be effective or true or critical or whatever, the whole notion of proof is far more limited than most of us blithely assume.

For example: can science proof that life exists? If so, how? Can science definitively prove what the notion of ‘life’ is? On our level of perception, it’s pretty obvious when somebody dies; there is a clear shift. However, from the perspective of a quantum level microscope, living processes don’t end with physical death, all sorts of things – trillions of them – are zinging around with nary a pause.

Or again going quantum: can we define the exact place where our bodies end and the world outside and around them begins? No, we cannot. The quantum microscope will show zillions of things streaming out of and into the body. This is equally true for ostensibly not-living things like tables and rocks: on the quantum level zillions of particles are swimming around such that something as seemingly solid as a rock is actually more like a cloud. What we have is something resembling a crowd of supporters at a sports event: varied concentrations of differing populations – fans of Team X, fans of Team Y, family groupings, church groupings, age groupings and so on. Yes, they all comprise ‘one crowd’ but that one thing is an amalgamation of many sub-groups, all in continuous flux.

If the scientific method cannot precisely measure or define boundaries can it precisely define or measure a thing or being?

Lastly, we can look at this from the perspective of time: in our experience have we ever seen evidence that one moment does not follow from a previous one and lead into a next one? Is there a moment wherein everything just stops and there is no subsequent moment? Can the river of time freeze to a total stop?

No scientist (or ordinary mortal for that matter) has ever witnessed such a moment. It goes against all the laws of seeming reality. We may not understand how everything works (actually, of course, we understand very little), but we know that time never stops. Never. (Leaving aside the inconvenient fact that time cannot be seen or touched, merely inferred by machines which are not time themselves.)

So how can there not be something continuing after what we call ‘death?’ Just as we cannot definitely measure the exact moment of death, the exact boundary between one condition and the next, so also we cannot know for certain what happens next. That right there is some sort of ‘proof’ that something continues after death. We may not know what, exactly, but the likelihood that it’s absolutely nothing is absolutely nil.

(This contemplation also brings up the contrast between that which is seen and that which is invisible, including fascinating issues like the way masculine and feminine permeate every aspect of experience and phenomenal reality. But that’s for another article.)

Meanwhile, this ‘proof of life after death’ may not satisfy the usual norms of the ‘scientific method,’ but that’s hardly surprising given this sort of question is actually outside of their purview. From their perspective, we can say that just as there can be no scientific proof of life after death, neither can there be scientific proof that there is no life (or whatever) after death. The invisible realm is not knowable in the visible realm. So whatever realm of experience exists after life ends is not knowable in the realm of the living, at least not by science.

Since we have no evidence anywhere in the land of the living that things come to a complete halt from one moment to the next – there is always some sort of continuity or border-fuzziness principle as described above – therefore it is reasonable to conclude that something continues after physical death. Some might not call this proof, exactly, but they also cannot disprove, or falsify, it either.

It remains – as it always has done and will continue to be – an open question. We may not know what exactly continues after death, but that there are some after-effects continuing to resonate in future moments in the ongoing stream of time and being is almost certain.

As General Maximus proclaimed before the final battle subduing the German barbarians, or ‘Celtoi:’

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

Well said, Maximus, well said indeed!

On Wisdom and Emotions

The greater the emotions, the greater the wisdom.”

Old Buddhist tantric saying.

Yamantaka. Wrathful Buddhas and Dharma Protectors fascinate me. | Buddhism, Tibet, Buddhist
Yamantaka – The Destroyer of Death, Angry Wisdom

There are quite a few core tenets, or attributes, we all need to develop in our journey through life. One of them is discipline. Nearly all obstacles and chronic difficulties can be traced back to a lack of discipline, which has something to do with sticking to something, be it an activity, a principle, a vocation, a marriage – and so forth.

Often in conversation, I have found myself bringing up professional tennis players as well-known examples of hard-core discipline – as covered briefly in the preceding article On Wimbledon and English Summers. Today’s short article is about a related aspect of that, namely the way top players have the ability to raise their game whenever a challenge requiring them to do so arises. Many of us, confronted with two championship points against us for example, might crumple under such pressure, give up, or just throw the game away somehow in a state of nervous panic. But the top players find a way to raise their game by serving up two aces in a row, or getting the ball back no matter what until their opponent loses focus and misses a shot, or by hitting almost impossibly brilliant winners. They dig deep and come up with the gold.

Part of the dynamic here is that the challenge in question is initially felt as some sort of pressure or intensity which we experience as heightened emotion. Such emotion may not be easily labelled as ‘anger,’ ‘jealousy’ or whatever, but it exists somewhere along the axis where emotions involving success and failure dwell, so perhaps there is fear of losing along with determination or even expectation of winning. The fear of loss and hope to win are two sides of the same coin in this tennis game realm. Of course for professionals this game is their livelihood, identity and what they achieve in life so it’s a loaded situation – albeit still only a game: after all, they do not face imminent execution or loss of all assets if they lose.

In any case, at certain critical points in the match, they can channel the heightened emotion aroused by the existential game being on the line into enhanced performance. Interestingly, this resembles two key aspects of the spiritual path, namely how to use emotions to engender heightened awareness and wisdom, and also how to handle what happens after you die. In both cases, the recommendation is to make out like the top tennis players, namely to raise your game in the face of increased intensity and challenge.

In terms of the meditation aspect, some of the old yogic manuals recommend deliberately putting yourself into hostile environments so that you can confront and master extreme emotions, by for example meditating in charnel grounds (where in India they threw dead bodies to be eaten by animals who roam around at night doing just that), or market places, or haunted houses, or remote caves in the Himalaya mountains and so forth. This is because it is hard to engender strong awareness whilst in a state of languid comfort or only milquetoast emotion. People have this image of meditators favoring only tranquil situations, being peaceful, calm, quiet, always joyful. That’s not really how it works. In fact, life is constantly presenting challenges, just like those key moments in tennis matches. How we face such challenges becomes a defining part of our character, which in turn determines how we handle the ultimate challenge awaiting us in what Tibetans call ‘the bardo,’ the state of being after death.

Bardo is any in-between state. Right now we are all in the ‘waking bardo,’ which is the state between birth and death. There is also the dreaming bardo between being awake and asleep, and you could say the childhood bardo between infancy and adulthood. Everything is some sort of bardo: the present moment is a bardo between past and future. The moment of intensity facing a Championship Point is also a type of bardo too, as the period after physical death before whatever comes next is sorted out.

In some of the old yogic manuals dealing with this topic of transmuting emotion into awareness, they suggest standing in front of a mirror and engendering strong emotional states by grimacing fiercely – even shouting – to provoke anger, or crying to provoke sadness, grinning and goofing around to provoke joy and so forth. The trick is learning how to merge those heightened emotional states with awareness. Now it’s not the purpose of this series of articles to get into exactly what that is and how to do it, but suffice to say it’s basically the same thing as what a Federer, Nadal or Djokovic does when facing those break, set or championship points.

They pay attention to what is happening, focus completely on what needs to be done and then execute fearlessly using the heightened emotional intensity of the challenge as fuel for the fire of their correspondingly heightened awareness in the form of a greater level of play. In short, they ‘step up their game.’

They say that if we become good at doing this in our daily lives, then we can do a fairly good job of encountering what arises in the after-life bardo, which is experienced as varying intensities of sounds and lights, both abstract and familiar or phantasmagoric forms. The trick is to go into the bright lights and loud sounds rather than turning away from them into something less intense, more comfortable, more familiar. So if you experience the dim lights and low intensity zones, you need to be aware that they are such rather than buying into the comfort and reassurance they seem to offer, rather keep paying attention to details. As such details emerge, intensity will rise again until you face the next key point in the match, at which time you can call upon your prior training and experience to raise your game and, rather than turning away, rather face forward into the bright lights of heightened emotional intensity.

On Wimbledon and English Summers

Wimbledon 2021 – with full attendance finally

I have a sort of ritual every year in that I clear the calendar for the final week of Wimbledon, make sure my internet connections are good with access to sites showing the games and then kick back. This year I made the mistake of watching the first week so that by the time the second week came around I was already losing interest in the little ball going back and forth with little men in my little laptop screen running around after it furiously. This is because my interest was piqued by Andrew Murray’s comeback adventure; indeed, if I hadn’t tuned in for that first week, I wouldn’t have seen him play. I’ve never much liked watching him play (as per previous post), but a good story is a good story and so I tuned in.

I grew up in London, England and first started watching tennis in the large dining room in West Acre House at Harrow School. There was a generous side area apart from the dining tables which sat around 100 boys from ages 13 to 18. The summers were languid. Afternoons year-round were for sports, be they team sports on various fields, or other sports like running, squash, racquets, fencing. I played mainly squash myself. Every once in a while our House had to play another House so there was the occasional cricket game, but mainly I remember them as good opportunities to find a nice large tree to sit under and get a good bit of reading in. Except during Wimbledon week. I don’t know about other Houses, but in West Acre we all crowded into the area in front of an old black and white television to watch. Every afternoon for hours we watched the whole presentation. Copious amounts of white bread with butter and jam were consumed after being toasted on the nearby toaster table. Tea was freely available in large dispensers somehow. We cheered, we groaned, we watched every shot. In those days there were men like Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Connors, Arthur Ashe with new stars arising like Björn Borg, Ivan Lendl and the emerging John McEnroe whose crazy hair-do and ghastly manners were matched in impact only by the exceptional touch tennis he wowed the world with.

Ever since that time, I have tried to tune into Wimbledon. I left Harrow in 1972 but remember watching one time in 1980 at the bar in the Gramercy Park Hotel; I worked for a non-profit educational foundation a block or so away on 21st Street, so goofed off during the mid-mornings that week to quaff a few beers and watch Wimbledon. One day I was elbow to elbow with a mid-thirties or so Baron Wedgwood, the scion of the original Sir Josiah Wedgwood whose family name is still on fine china sold worldwide, albeit now part of a Finnish business consortium along with Daulton and other old names. (Maybe my bar companion Wedgwood watched too much tennis?!)

Why the quasi-ritual, though? Partly it’s the tennis. I find top-level tennis absorbing: the leading players clearly lead extremely disciplined lives, so on top of prodigious talent they layer in years, indeed decades, of hard work, every day, working on fitness, skills, preparation, the mental aspects. In the last twenty years or so, starting with Sampras perhaps who won an unprecedented fourteen grand slams, the world number one in the rankings has exhibited great levels of discipline and commitment, because that is what it took to beat Sampras, himself an exceptionally talented and hard-working champion, and then maintain the ability to win further championships thereafter. Federer’s extraordinarily graceful style of play made it look easy perhaps, but to beat him took total commitment tournament after tournament. And the same goes for Nadal, especially on clay, where only recently have other champions been able to occasionally topple him from his throne where he reigns as ‘King of Clay.’ Djokovic on Sunday paid tribute – as he has often done – to both Federer and Nadal in that they made him the player he is today, because in order to beat them he had to develop an entire well-rounded discipline honing body and mind into a weapon able to achieve victory on the court. Top-level professional games are often very close, intense, and decided by only a few key points. Not to mention that the shot-making, at these levels, can be highly entertaining.

But the tennis is not the only reason I watch Wimbledon every year. Mainly it is a return to some sort of continuity in life. I don’t go to church and left my old Buddhist community from the 70’s to 90’s along with all the great friends of my youth with whom I shared so many aspirations, follies and grand times at the feet of an iconoclastic genius trickster Tibetan master. Earlier, I had left England at the insouciant age of nineteen. I like English movies better than most American ones, speak with a faded English ‘mid-Atlantic’ accent, and deeply miss the wild but also well-tamed English countryside. Everywhere I go, I am always comparing whatever landscape presents itself to England, especially the counties like Surrey and Sussex near London with which am most familiar. Rolling green fields with occasional large oak trees is my default go-to terrain; on walks I expect to see hedgerows brimming with flowers, teeming with birdsong. So Wimbledon reminds me of boyhood, of growing up in England, and its grass courts remind me of the playing fields of Harrow where I occasionally pretended to play cricket in between downing no end of sticky ice creams.

England in those times, and therefore also for me, was what I now think of as a ‘real country.’ America is now fracturing, the victim of deliberate political sabotage perpetrated for reasons one seemingly cannot fathom other perhaps than presuming that desire for control on the part of a remote leadership class is somewhere in the mix. Their relentlessness is an almost demonic insistence on making things unpleasant, on denying ordinary people the ability to lead positive, uncomplicated – if still demanding – lives without confronting them with one existential crisis after another, keeping them in thrall to perpetual anxiety as macro-scale financial policies erode the value of their currencies making saving difficult and thus also the accumulation of wealth over succeeding generations, especially given the huge cut taken every year by taxes; meanwhile their familiar cultures and values are shredded daily by new progressive initiatives whose only common theme seems to be that anything they hold dear is now deemed irreparably wicked and deserving only of being thrown, along with later their corpses presumably, onto the trash heap of history.

So watching Wimbledon, watching the players dressed in white, hearing the pounding of their feet, the thwacks and thuds of balls hitting racquets and turf, hearing the timeless moans and applause of the enthralled crowds, watching Wimbledon is both a reprieve from the relentless degradation of our civilization and a brief return to the days when I knew what being part of a great country and culture was, when we knew what was what and who was who, being all part of the same community called England or Great Britain, sharing so much joy and pride in such basic camaraderie.

Of course, this is an overly nostalgic and hagiographic description. But it’s how things felt back then, both to a teenager growing up and to most people living in such countries. Of course the same leadership class shenanigans were ongoing (witness the entirely unnecessary hardships and slaughter of The Great Wars of 1914-1948) but the sense of togetherness within some sort of national community was for sure far more developed and enveloping. That’s all breaking apart now.

But for two weeks – well, next year it will be back to one week again! – I can return fondly to the days of my youth and to a country which I will always dearly love and whose countryside will always be home, even if only in memory.

The Trials & Tribulations of Sir Andy Murray

Sir Andrew grimacing…

Andy has been away from the game for four years due to health issues, some of which required hip operations. At the time of his departure he had been World #1 for a while – as the big three faltered from various injuries themselves – and was a beloved national hero in Great Britain after having won the Olympic Gold in 2012, then Wimbledon itself the following year– prising the trophy away from much-beloved Federer in an epic final, and then one more time a couple of years later. He got knighted for all that – and rightly so given that he dwells in the hearts of so many of his fellow countrymen and women. All well and good, but:

Andy has a way of making nearly every match you watch him play in some sort of torturous ordeal, not just for himself but also his opponent and spectators. I had forgotten how much I dislike watching some of his matches. At some point in the match, he starts worriting about this and that, then he starts torturing himself, sometimes hitting himself on the head, but most of all shouting at himself and grimacing in hyper-expressive combinations of anger and grief. He suffers so. Generally, he is reluctant to take the lead, to take charge, to go on the attack, preferring rather to wear his opponent down with brilliant defensive play. He was the best returner of serve in the game, for example.

The ATPtour.com article I have up to remember the score has a Twitter headline embedded from Wimbledon.org: “Heart. Determination. Murray.” Hmm. Was it heart and determination that let him go from 5-0 up in the third set to losing it? No. He fumbled, faltered and then defaulted back to his seemingly favorite state of mind: anguish.

Now, if you don’t know, Murray suffered significant childhood trauma, not from bad parents – his mother still watches many of his matches and they appear very close – but from a lone gunman massacre at his school that rocked the minds and hearts of the entire country. He was not shot himself, being in a nearby classroom sheltering under a desk not even knowing what was taking place in the gym not far away, but he knew the killer and many of the children shot and killed, and given the event shook the entire country up for some time, no doubt it deeply effected those on the scene in the small town of Dunblane, Scotland for some time. Later his parents divorced – doubtless yet more trauma.

The little insight at the heart of this article is the speculation that perhaps the intensity experienced during these childhood traumas have given him emotional strengths he has drawn upon to become a world-class champion of tennis and Knight of the Realm no less. Let me explain:

Leaving aside any concerns involving the pain and suffering involved, more generally speaking we can say that any sort of trauma is highly intense on the experience scale both during and after – indeed in some cases that ‘after’ can last for the rest of one’s life. This intensity is like much higher than usual volume, taking things to a different level; or it’s like waking up in a bedroom with thirty foot high ceilings instead of the standard eight feet under which one fell asleep. Such experiences alter perspective and emotional range including the depth and scope of pressure and intensity one can later handle.

Top male tennis players both on and off the court have extraordinary levels of discipline, focus, strength, stamina, athleticism, will to win, grit, ability to shake off defeat, ability to seize opportunities to win, and perhaps most of all, the ability to raise the level of their game in the big moments making any significant victory possible. Such big moments are similar to trauma in that they are highly intense. Indeed, again leaving aside the suffering aspect, in terms of sheer intensity level a top-level semi-final or final is like three hours of steady trauma. These champions learn to stay in the moment in the midst of a storm of physical and mental challenges – in many ways similar to traumatic events. Yes, this is a controlled situation being a game with rules, but intensity-wise, it is up there.

That is why the veteran players have such an advantage over the younger ones who are not used to keeping their footing, let alone raising their game, during such tempests. Indeed, this is likely why Tsisipas lost the French Open to Djokovic after being up two sets: he couldn’t handle the excitement, the intensity, the thrill of basically having made his dream come true, defeating his boyhood idol at a Grand Slam and so on. Because of that excitement – or perhaps excess of relief after having seemingly achieved his goal – he lost his edge, his concentration, his poise, his grit even as Djokovic, a veteran champion who has mastered such dynamics, used the prospect of imminent loss as fuel to rocket his game to a higher level and ultimately prevail in a five set classic.

Will Tsisipas recover from the trauma of this shattering loss? Only time will tell. But if he does, he will have learned to channel its intensity into expanding his range of emotion and performance into playing at the higher levels of nerve and skill summoned by those inevitable big moments whose outcomes determine victory or defeat. So this trauma will either make him or break him, but in any case their after-effects will remain during whatever later unfolds in his life’s journey on and off the court.

Murray seems to have a homing pigeon’s tendency to return home, in his case to anguish, so that even when he is comfortably ahead like last night he finds a way to fuss and falter after which either he fights his way back to victory or he doesn’t. Of course he is rusty now so it remains to be seen how he does during the rest of this tournament, but meanwhile the emotional anguish on display last night reminded me of why I so often didn’t like watching him play: he not only brings himself into this state, he also then drags his opponent and audience along with him; it’s not fun, indeed it’s painful for the whole match becomes about Andy and his inner demons. But it seems that is is such pain that gets him going, pain whose intensity he then channels into raising his level of play. And it also seems that even when he manages to get into championship mode playing at a high level of intensity with focus, speed and determination, along with such intensity come resonating echoes of the earlier – and very painful – traumas as reflected in the extreme grimaces he is wont to make.

It is glorious that he can channel such pain into such excellent athletic performances and lifetime achievements, but more than a little sad and painful that he has to suffer so much in so doing.

Note: this sort of intense situation where inner and outer reality are blended into one overall experience zone is a type of realm as discussed earlier.