Sunday, August 30, 2009

You Never Know Where Wisdom Will Appear

I've been a baseball fan nearly my entire life. Growing up, I prowled the outfield for several rec teams, dreaming like many Minnesota kids back then of becoming the next Kirby Puckett. For several of those years, my neighbors were a trio of boys with the last name Mauer. Summer days, when weren't with our teams, we'd take over the alley, and proceed to get in trouble with any number of adults who were broken from their TV sets and conversations by the sound of a tennis ball smashing against a back door, or window. It was a magical time for us, and now one of those boys, little Joey as I will always call him, is the star catcher for the Minnesota Twins.

So, I still follow the game. And this morning I came upon the following article, about the successful, but aging pitcher John Smoltz. Smoltz Regains Identity The basic story is this. For 21 years, John Smoltz pitched for a single team, the Atlanta Braves. His career began around the time his team, and ours - The Twins - both had amazing turn around years, going from last place to first in a year, and landing in the World Series against each other. The Braves were an easy team to root against. Smug owner. Racist nickname. And "the Tomahawk Chop," which boils down to being a stadium full of people participating in a fake Native American war chant, complete with arm chops. John Smoltz was a member of the young, very talented pitching trio that led Atlanta for a good decade or more of success.

Fast forward nearly twenty years to early spring, when Smoltz received a call from the general manager of Atlanta, saying he was being released. To say Smoltz was upset would be an understatement. He soon signed with another team, the Boston Red Sox, determined to show his old team that they had made a mistake, a big mistake. He had a big grudge, a chip on his shoulder, any and all the usual cliches would apply to what he was being driven by. Anything but clarity, and a focus on the present moment.

He pitched poorly, very poorly, and found himself sitting on the bench in early August after a terrible outing against the Red Sox hated rival, the New York Yankees, reflecting on what could be the end of his career.

“I sat there for four more innings,” Smoltz said. “Just sat there. And I said to myself, ‘This is it.’ My career was ending. I needed to watch it. Not because I thought I deserved it, but I wanted to take it in and see who I am.”

How many of us have been in this place in our lives about something? An ending relationship, a failing career, the death of a loved one ... these moments that something is clearly changing, but before there is clarity as to what exactly is coming next.

Smoltz reflected on all that had happened in past several months, and as he did, he realized that what he was being driven by, anger at his old team for releasing him, was destroying the remainder of his career.

“Not only was it {the grudge} a joke,” he said, “it was not who I am.”

It was not who I am. A moment of awareness of the buddhanature we all have. We are not the many emotional disturbances that float through us through the course of a lifetime. True, they are included as part of our life. But they are not who we are.

“The self-inflicted strife that built up wasn’t what I needed to pitch,” Smoltz further said. “I wouldn’t call it anger. I just didn’t let go. That chip on my shoulder didn’t get me results. On that mound, you have to be clear-minded. I didn’t handle it well.

I just didn't let go. Isn't that the truth. Every one of us have said this line. Have felt the misery of what this line means. And at the same time, when we finally say it, that saying it is the letting go. I've come to see how letting go of anything that has caused suffering in the past is usually a process of little shifts, little letting gos. Until finally it's not an issue any more.

Since those initial reflections, Smoltz has lost his job with the Red Sox, been signed by a new team, the St. Louis Cardinals, and has proceeded to regain his good pitching form, all in less than a month.

You never know where wisdom will appear. So keep you eyes open, ears unplugged, and heart ready - it's all around, all around.

No comments: