Everyday Parables - the struggle to be present

Sunday's softball game was frustrating to me. It was not because of the hot 90 plus degree weather – our catcher was getting sunspots in her eyes and dizzy from getting up and down and standing in the glaring sun. It wasn't because I got a nice abrasion on my leg by trying to get back to third base and not making it in time. It wasn't because of my bobbled ball in fielding a hard grounder to second.

My frustration came because it seemed no one could live in the present.

  • “What's the score?” followed by “Let's hold 'em” or “We gotta get some runs.”

  • Oh, I should have/shouldn't have...

  • Why can't I get a hit past the infield?

  • If we wouldn't have...If only we had...I almost had...

  • Gosh, next season we will be fierce competitors if we all play together again. (Ahem...how about playing fiercely NOW!)

  • And trying to pre-think the rec rules to our advantage: If he gets walked, we should use the rule that the girl automatically gets walked to first so we can have a boy bat. (I have a whole different frustration with this one :)

It seemed our heads were either dwelling on the past – what we could have done better, or what we should have done or “I almost had that” OR how the outfield should be playing (as directed by someone in the infield) and vice versa. If we weren't analyzing the past, albeit to try and improve our performance (or the performance of our teammates), then we were focused on the future outcome...not only of this game but next year. And, thus, we missed the now. We missed celebrating well with a teammate who made an outstanding catch. We missed being able to "shake off" the not-so-outstanding bone-headed plays - like when I zoned on covering second base and the SS couldn't run there in time to get the out.

What seemed more difficult for us was staying in the present...living the one play at hand. The old axiom my dad would say to me over and over again when I was playing a decade of competitive golf holds true for anything: “One shot at a time.”

Carrying the regrets and mistakes of past plays into the present and/or forecasting out “if only we hold 'em or score X number of runs we'll win” only muddles the present. And competition and comparison seem to muddle the present.

Oh, how I am unlearning to live life in the muddle in order to be in the now.

And then there's the unhelpful advice about the things we already know but executed poorly:

  • “Watch the bat hit the ball” – right after a swing and a miss.

  • “Get your glove down” – right after a hard grounder goes under the mitt into the outfield.

  • “We just need a hit.” – don't we always?

I admit, I do about as well with that advice as the dental hygienist telling me I need to floss. I'll just add them to the book I'll write someday, "The things I know, but don't always do."

 Yesterday was actually the first game all season I did not have fun (except perhaps when I was sidelined because of my achilles injury). Maybe it's because we're on a two game winning streak (after an eight game losing streak) so we are all of a sudden more serious and competitive. I'm harder on myself and we as a team were harder on each other. Arguments in the dugout about how we should play our positions better...side conversations about how so and so needs to this and that. (Not too different from a few ministry teams on which I've worked.) No coach to "shepherd" us into cohesion and be in the now. No, instead:

  • “Why didn't you tag and run on that ball?”

  • “Why aren't you playing up - they're not hitting that far out?”

  • The infielders yelling at the outfielders telling them how to play their positions and vice versa.

  • “Get your head in the game...” always more polite than get your head out of your arse, but same idea.

All these things seem so innocuous – it is amazing how I just wanted the chatter to stop. I found myself joining the fray of murmuring:

  • “Don't worry about the outcome...Just be here now...”

  • “Don't worry about that play/mistake...just be here now...”

  • “Don't play the outfielder's position, play your own...”

I am a true contemplative – I would have preferred to play the game in silence :) I wonder if that would have helped us be more present?

What did I need? Was it silence? No...I just wanted to have fun. It's a recreational league, for crying out loud. But all of a sudden our team has started playing better, winning games and the fun has been being squeezed out. I wonder if being in the present is more conducive to enjoyment than being in a competitive mode (which seems to breed regret, analysis and unhelpful pep talks).

All of this makes me think of the wisdom of my Spiritual Director, Sr. Mary Jo. During one of our sessions (where we had been considering the past and the future) she asked me, “What are you thinking now?”

Me: “You mean right now or in this season of my life?”

MJ: “The only now is right now.”

Lord, grant me the grace to be present in the right now...whether in a softball game, in being with another person, or focusing on my work. May I “just be here, now” in more moments than not today. Amen