The Art of Play and Learning

If you have any sort of golf practice routine I would like you to reflect on a few questions. Do you have a results-oriented golf practice? Or do you have a playful, curiosity-based, trial and error, exploration-related golf practice? One of these attitudes and orientations usually dominates a golf practice. Which do you think might be more productive for your golf game? In her book Bodyfulness, Christine Caldwell PhD coins a new term, bodyfulness, and examines the concepts of flow, movement, inquiry and change as related to learning and the body/mind. She states, “Flow describes the state one is in while being creative, and it shares some interesting characteristics with bodyfulness, and particularly with inquiry. In flow, our awareness merges with our actions….By entering the flow states connected with inquiry, especially movement inquiry, we likely can grow and sustain new neural pathways that allow our brain-body to be more and more creative.” Bodyfulness is primarily about awareness, and creative movement facilitates that awareness. Flow is the state of unobstructed communication between body and mind that occurs spontaneously when we cultivate the circumstances conducive to that connection. Having a curiosity-based and exploration-oriented focus will facilitate that flow in your golf practice….and possibly beyond!

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is often referred to as “insanity.” Even professional golfers explore new things about their golf swing and their golf game. Although they seem to be focusing on golf swing mechanics much of the time, most understand that an adaptable golf swing serves them well because of the variety of conditions and golf shots they face regularly. Coming back to the question of having a results-oriented or exploration-oriented golf practice, do you have a “script” for your golf practice, your golf swing or your golf game that you try to follow? If you do, I suggest that you will be better served by experimenting, exploring and noticing differences with sensory awareness. When you TRY to follow a script you limit yourself. On the other hand, when you establish a subtle intention for form and then just let it flow, you give your body/mind an opportunity to express the Intelligence that Nature has endowed you with. The art of allowing change and cultivating flow is the natural path of growth – in your golf game and in your life.

In his book Trying Not to Try, Edward Slingerland examines the sometimes abstract concept of trying and states, “Getting the mind to shut off and allow the body to do its thing is clearly a challenge. An even bigger problem – and one we encounter much more often – is the trick of getting your mind to let go of itself… Our excessive focus in the modern world on the power of conscious thought and the benefits of willpower and self-control causes us to overlook the pervasive importance of what might be called “body-thinking”: tacit, fast, semiautomatic behavior that flows from the unconscious with little or no conscious interference.”

The act of sensing stops us from thinking.
Dr. Joe Dispenza

Slingerland discusses the fact that consciously focusing on how to perform a physical motor skill, or trying to explain the process in words to others, may actually impair our ability to perform the skill. He explores the many facets of spontaneity, why it’s so crucial to our well-being and yet so elusive, and states “The problem of how to try not to try is an ancient one, and it has engaged thinkers throughout history….It is my belief that these thinkers, hailing from the so-called Confucian and Daoist schools in early China, had deep insights into the human condition that can still prove very useful to us today.” These early philosophers developed a concept called “wu-wei” (pronounced oooo-way). (See the June 2018 Instinctive Golf Blog Wu-wei on this site). Slinglerland explains, “Wu-wei” literally translates as “no trying” or “no doing”, but it’s not at all about dull inaction. In fact, it refers to the dynamic, effortless, and unselfconscious state of mind of a person who is optimally active and effective….For a person in wu-wei, proper and effective conduct follows us automatically as the body gives in to the seductive rhythm of a song. This state of harmony is both complex and holistic, involving as it does the integration of the body, the emotions, and the mind. If we were to translate it, wu-wei is probably best rendered as something like “effortless action” or “spontaneous action”.”

In Bodyfulness, Caldwell discusses how challenge is a key in how we can change, learn and grow. In discussing learning by contrast and awareness, especially sensory contrast, she states, “On a whole-body level, learning something new involves having experiences that challenge your programming.”  Nowhere do these authors/researchers talk about routine or having a script, or having a focus on mechanical thinking or repetitive movement. They discuss spontaneity, adaptability, exploration, contrast, awareness and challenge to encourage growth and improvement in both our physical abilities and in our lives.

One of the best means of understanding change, growth and learning is to investigate the concepts of flow, creativity and wu-wei. (See the Jan 2019 Instinctive Golf Blog Rhythm and Flow and the Jan 2020 blog FLOW on this site). Discussing awareness and flow, Christine Caldwell states, “By entering the flow states connected with inquiry, especially movement inquiry, we likely can grow and sustain new neural pathways that allow our brain-body to be more and more creative, not only for artistic purposes but also within daily living.”

Again, this is why I encourage your golf practice to be one of exploration rather than routine or results-oriented. Learning or improving a motor skill involves attention, awareness, variety, contrast and stimulation. Caldwell states, “Because graceful and efficient motor plans have been so essential to our evolutionary survival, nature has paired them with play behavior in childhood. In this way we learn many of our motor plans during relatively safe, fun, and “pretend” circumstances….From a bodyfulness perspective, it’s never too late to have a playful childhood.”

The ‘way of a child’ is most fully characterized by play and flow. It is true genius. Are you willing to embrace the genius that each one of us possesses? Please realize that it has only been disguised by our adult seriosity. Creative non-judgmental play and exploration pave the path of genius – the way of a child. The ‘way of a child’ is simply having an openness to receiving and utilizing the gifts within that Nature has endowed us with.

Make your golf practice your play and your play your golf practice! Play for play’s sake! Play for the sole purpose of learning something new! Play, have fun, explore and discover….your child-like instinctive genius!

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