My attitude towards tennis has changed over the years. I play the game now for one reason only and that reason is to get in the zone. Playing tennis in the zone has become the journey and the destination for me, not because of the peak performance aspect of the zone, although that certainly enters into the equation, but more because of the transformation of consciousness that occurs when I shift into the zone. Playing in my normal conscious state is no longer of any interest to me other than as a comparison to playing in a higher conscious state. So my tennis practice has become a journey of higher consciousness, a journey of integral consciousness in which the game is the vehicle for the transformation out of my egoic self and into my Authentic Self; a vehicle for experiencing “presence” and all that goes along with that unified state.
The more time I spend in the zone, the more I develop this higher-order, Authentic Self, and it is the driving factor of my personal and professional life. The difference between the egoic self of my normal performance state and the Authentic Self of my peak performance state is radical, not only in the difference I feel in my on-court performance – which is always better when I am in the zone – but also in the difference in my sense of self – which is always fuller and freer when I am in the zone.
Nothing is missing when I am in the zone. I’m never searching for that elusive piece of the puzzle that will finally bring my game together into a functional whole. My game feels whole when I am in the zone. I feel whole when I am in the zone. There is no separation between me and the game, no gap between subject and object, and that unified state of functional wholeness brings with it a sense of creative freedom in which I play the game fearlessly, without judgment or concern for the outcome. There comes a deep sense of liberation in which I no longer worry about winning or losing; the simple purity of contact is enough for me, and that singular event of contact is the centerpiece of my mental and physical focus. Not the ball, not my opponent, not my technique or my target, only the creation of contact at the exact point the ball first enters my contact zone. At that exact moment of contact, I feel completely connected to the game of tennis. The whole of my being connected to the whole of the game, unified in that wholeness, my Authentic Self connected to the Authentic Game, nothing missing, fullness, completeness, oneness.
I have come to know that oneness in my game and in my life. It has not been an easy, overnight transformation for me. In fact, it has been the most difficult road I have ever traveled. The daily battle to detach from ego and develop my Authentic Self has been the hardest battle of my life, yet it has proven to be the battle for my life, my authentic life; a life that is free from the bondage and limitations of egoic self-consciousness.
I can only speak for myself, but I can say for certain that it has been a battle well worth fighting. Who I am now is a far cry from who I was then, and I owe that transformation to the practice of playing tennis in the zone. That’s all I did – every day, day-in and day-out. All I did was get better at shifting into the zone, then get better at stabilizing the zone, and with that stabilization of my peak performance state came the simultaneous stabilization and development of integral consciousness and my Authentic Self. In theory, it was that simple. In practice, there was nothing simple about it. Learning to get in the zone and then stay there is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it has also been the most revealing thing I have ever done. Not only has it revealed who I really am and who I really can be as my Authentic Self, but as I continue the practice of playing in the zone, it continues to reveal an even deeper sense of self – my True Self, my Spiritual Self, my Eternal and Infinite Self, and what I have come to understand in the deepest reaches of my being is that not only am I one with the game of tennis when I am in the zone, but I am also one with God – whether I am in the zone or not!
I used to think that was crazy talk. For me, God was always “out there” in some mysterious other world. The spiritual dimension was always out there and I was always separate from its ultimate reality. But as I continued playing tennis in the zone, as I became more and more familiar with my Authentic Self and being in the present, I slowly came to recognize the ever-present existence of an even deeper reality, a reality that was always there even though I had been ignoring it all my life. And it was a reality that was always present whether I was in the zone or not. It didn’t matter. The ever-present nature of this deeper reality didn’t care if I was in the zone or in the norm. It was okay with either performance state as if both performance states simply arose within its ever-present reality.
At first, I would only have short glimpses of this underlying reality, but those short glimpses kept happening, again and again, and it got to the point where I could not deny the existence of whatever that reality was. And it wasn’t like, “Hi, I’m here, always here, what are you going to do about it?” It wasn’t that obvious. I felt it more as an underlying calm amidst the storm of competition, a quiet beneath the noise of the game, tranquility beneath the turbulence, an emptiness in which the fullness of the game was played out.
And then the questions came. What is this emptiness in which the fullness of the game plays out its moment-to-moment dance? What is this tranquility beneath the turbulence, this quiet beneath the clamor of the game? And the biggest question of all: who is experiencing this peace and calm amidst the rapid-fire action that is tennis? Who, exactly, am I when I am one with these radical opposites that are no longer in opposition? Who am I at this deepest level of awareness where opposites merge and there is only the one, and I am one with that?
This experience of oneness, of wholeness, of unity, kept happening more frequently until I could no longer ignore it; only accept it for what it was, for what it is, and for its transcendent, ever-present presence. Call it God. Call it Spirit. Call it Christ-Consciousness, Buddha Mind, Timeless Presence, the Big Empty. Call it what you will. I call it the Spiritual Dimension of Tennis, and it is always there. It was already there before I started playing the game, and it will always be there when I can play the game no more. Always here, always now, and I have come to accept its ever-present embrace. In fact, I embrace it in return, and I now know that at my deepest level, the level at which I experience the convergence of these opposites, where subject and object are not separate, not two. At that level, I experience my own True Nature where God is no longer out there, but “in here,” in me, and I am one with God. The practice of playing tennis in the zone has shown me that Oneness, and through a simple game of ball and stick, I have come to know that journey and destination are one, and in that Oneness, I am home.