Only you can help me. I enjoy croquet, and I want to play in tournaments, but there is so much anxiety and suffering from wanting to win, I wonder if it is all worth it and maybe I should take up something more passive and less stressful, like golf or stamp collecting. Am I crazy, or what?
- Ambivalent in Palm Beach
You are probably not crazy. You express in a nutshell the dilemma of living an enlightened life. In the metaphor of Croquet Yoga, you are saying, "I want to play a serious game, but I donít want the disappointment and humiliation of losing; I want to embrace full life, but I want to avoid risk and danger. I want the joy and exhilaration of playing a winning game, but I donít want the despair and frustration of losing."
This is the same as saying, "I want hot, but not cold, I want sweet but never sour, up but never down, Yes but not No. Ying, but never Yang.
Playing games is a distinctly human activity, deliberately creating unnecessary problems and difficulties for the pleasure of surmounting them.
In Croquet Yoga, the entire value of the game is in taking the significances off the fundamentally dualistic nature of so-called objective reality. In croquet, you can kill your opponent without guilt, because he, she, or it will resurrect instantly when the game is over. By the same token, you yourself can die most horribly on the court without giving it a thought. When you boldly attack a distant boundary, you can enjoy your dance upon the flaming edge of annihilation; after your groom, with everything at stake, you can thrill to the sight of your opponent attempting the crucial, potentially murderous hit on your balls.
Do you get it? When you know you are playing a game, you need suffer no guilt over killing your opponent; you can joyously drive him right into the turf up to his eyeballs while he writhes in pain and despair over his inevitable demise; you can chortle with glee as you demand payment of your hapless tenant, overextended on rent from your hoteled Park Place, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Baba says, Whatís the point of playing a game if youíre not having fun? And guilt is NO FUN. Guilt is one part of the suffering that you can definitely rid yourself of, 100 percent, even if the balance of Babaís advice falls on deaf ears.
At this point, perhaps a technical definition of "suffering" is in order. In all authentic spiritual disciplines, including Croquet Yoga, suffering can be defined simply as wanting things to be different than they are. Itís that simple. If you are not wishing it to be any different than it is, you cannot be suffering; because you have chosen it to be exactly the way it is. (If you are already living constantly in that state - of choosing everything to be exactly as it is at every moment - you are already a great yogi, and thereís no need to waste your time on Babaís humble counsels.)
When you choose to play a game, you are choosing whatever as-yet-unknown possibilities may evolve in the conduct of the game. Whatever it is, you are choosing it - youíre not necessarily desiring it, youíre not predicting it, but youíre choosing it - and you really donít want to control and dictate those possibilities in a game, do you? Because that wouldnít be a game any more. That would be more like "real life," where you want to organize and control everything, and when you canít do that, you suffer - because you want things to be other than they are.
See how very simple it is? Only in "real life" should there be suffering. If suffering happens in a game, something is wrong, isnít there? How can it be a game if there is suffering? And if your unenlightened opponent appears to be suffering, donít give it a thought. If you have any real compassion, you should probably laugh and jump up and down with joy and shout out, "Now Iíve got you! Youíre dead, youíre history!" That will help your suffering opponent surrender to his fate and with that surrender, guess what happens: His suffering ends!
Do you understand now? No? Youíre not sure? Letís say it another way, because this is so important: The reason you play a game in the first place is to deliberately choose the possibility of losing, of annihilation, of loss of control-so how can you complain of suffering when that bittersweet possibility is actualized? Without the possibility of losing - without real risk, real loss of control - the game itself is meaningless.
And for the big players in Life, it is exactly the same! There are no big players in Life who devote themselves at all times to their own comfort and safety and to avoiding all risk. The people who do that live in gated communities and nursing homes; if they are players at all, they play at a very low level. They venture almost nothing; they stand to gain almost nothing. Instead of putting up $500 on winning a croquet game, theyíre feeding nickel slots. [Editorís note: Since the mid-eighties, most nickel slots have been replaced by higher denominations.]
Letís talk about the universe, shall we? Do you know how the universe - this huge, cosmic game - actually began? No, not the physics, the part that came BEFORE the physics. The universe began when The Ultimate Reality (or god, if you prefer) decided to enjoy itself as many. No more all-knowing, all-complete, all-powerful....which soon becomes a bore. So one day, before there were any days at all, TUR declared, "Let the Game begin," and in that Game, TUR was, deliciously and at last, able to enjoy not-knowing, not-controlling, being uncertain and incomplete and in mystery about the future. (Before that, there was no "before" because there was no time, and therefore no future. Time and future are beautiful and wonderful dimensions of The Game.) And he/she/it saw that it was good, this game. By declaring this cosmic Diaspora of Self, one can easily imagine that TUR saved itself from insanity. But as a consequence, while enjoying himself/herself/itself as many, TUR sometimes forgets that itís a game.
The cycle of the universe is perhaps 50 billion years long, ending/beginning (some say) with a big bang (like beginning another croquet game after the final stake-out). We are not yet one-third of the way through this particular Big Cosmic Game - we are at the end of the beginning, at best. In any game with a beginning, middle, and an end, inexorably ordered towards annihilation and regeneration, Baba says, Why frown, why worry, why suffer? Just play the game.
Baba knows you are not going to read these words and cease all suffering - not even the greatest yogi could do that. You are still going to suffer one percent of the time, but Baba has a trick you can play, in the midst of even that little suffering. You can choose it! Yes, I know itís an oxymoron when compared to the technical definition of suffering given above.... nevertheless, it works! Spiritual realities are not dependent upon the rules of logic. Did you understand what I just said? CHOOSE the suffering, as in "Wow, Iím six-ball dead and down 24 to 2 with just 10 minutes left in the game. Far out! What a challenge!" And then do whatever you do. If what you do includes more suffering, just CHOOSE it. Then youíll be playing the game right - the way a true yogi plays it.
Itís so easy for Baba to give you this advice, but not so easy to follow it right away. But there is one trick almost everyone can do to at least get on the right path to ending the suffering in the game. This is not the entire answer, mind you, just a small part of it. But there is no doubt that even you can do this part, which is the other side of guilt, and Baba has already warned you against guilt. The other side of guilt is blame: Do not blame. Do not blame yourself (which is guilt). And do not blame others.
Do not blame anyone or anything for what happens to you, in any circumstance. Even if you donít believe that it is all your doing, even if you think youíre terribly unlucky, even when you clearly see evil people doing evil things to you, never deny that you are responsible for it all, take a deep breath, brace your shoulders, and own it as your own, alone. You really can do this, every time, IF you are willing to notice the mental machinery that produces blame and guilt.
Just think how much farther ahead you are than the bozo who loses and blames it on the bump in the court, or her partner, or a gust of wind, or someone chattering in the backswing. Think how much more advanced in the game you are than the bimbo who actually invokes the deity, or a panoply of deities, to smooth out the bumps - sort of like asking the referee to change the rules in the middle of the game.
(In the metaphor of Croquet Yoga, remember, the referee is god. You would no longer ask the referee to suspend the out-of-bounds loss of turn for you due to "special circumstances" than you would ask God to send the hurricane over somebody elseís house instead of yours. Would you? And do not tell me about those quarterbacks who assemble the players for prayer before the game. If they are authentic Christians, they are not asking for victory in the game: they are asking for the strength and the will to play the game well, and honorably - and maybe also not to get their heads broken.)
Now allow Baba to repeat himself for the unpteenth time, in a slightly different way, to make sure you understand, and this is important: When you consent to play the game, you invite the suffering. Recognize that the suffering - wishing things were other than they are - comes from within, as a part of your mechanical mental response to the conditions of the game. Do not externalize the suffering. Never mind the mundane circumstances. Just look at the genuine source of the suffering within your own mental constructs and conditioned responses to external stimuli, and the suffering will diminish - because as a function of this recognition, you will have recognized the source of the suffering within yourself, AND YOU WILL HAVE CHOSEN IT! You will once again be happily focused on the Game instead of the suffering.
You want to play the game wholly and passionately, of course. And here is one final contradiction than can only be unraveled in the realm of spirit, not on the plane of mundane reality: The more passionately you play the game, the easier it is to be become enmeshed and victimized by the circumstances, and to forget that you chose it. Donít forget. Tie a string around your finger if you need to do that to constantly remind yourself that you freely chose to play the game, you freely chose the possibility of losing, of bringing upon yourself real suffering: It is the cross you take up voluntarily whenever you enact the single sacrament of Croquet Yoga on the court.... which is simply Playing the Game.
To sum up: You are doomed. So what? Donít be an ass. Just play the game.
[For more on this important subject, send a generous love offering in care of this publication along with your request for Babaís monograph, "The Sheer Joy of Killing Your Enemies for the Fun of It and with Complete Impunity."]
Lately, when setting up and executing croquet shots, I find myself cultivating a reverie in which I play Maxwellís Demon, magically tuning collisions to achieve an improbably concentration of balls in the "chamber" on the far side of the hoop. I further imagine that I exert my will on the balls through some harmonic linkage of our respective DeBroglie waves. (Phase-entanglement comes in too, but this part is still vague.)
This quantum juju seems to work - that is, the gross Newtonian events exhibit less chaos the more clearly I visualize (or visceralize) my bodyís wave function interpenetrating that of the ball(s). My friends and fellow players have noted the improvement in my game, though I havenít told them about my imagistic experiments.
Is this consistent with Croquet Yoga, and should I keep doing it?
- Spacetimed Out in Santa Cruz
If it works for you, keep doing it. Also, it wouldnít be a bad idea to see a good psychotherapist without delay.
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