I was watching my beloved Minnesota Vikings blow another chance to go to the Super Bowl last night. I found myself contorted, snarling and gasping as the game progressed and I was just sitting on my couch. I wondered how the players could possibly deal with the ups and downs of the game, they were so close to it in the intensity of the moment.
But then, during one of the time outs I think, I turned off the sound and took some deep breaths and started to calm down. I felt the air coming in through my nose into my lungs and back out again, over and over. This lasted for however long it took for the networks to sell me trucks and beer, couple minutes I guess, but I was calmer, much more focused and aware. Hmm…
I got to thinking that the stress I was feeling was created by my REACTION to images and sounds coming from my television. I’ve watched loads of football games where I couldn’t care less about the two teams or the result and haven’t been tied up in knots. But for my team, I cared, really cared. And my stress was my brain’s attempt to resist and control what was happening in that game. I might even label it “insane”. Ridiculous, I’m just this guy on a couch.
But amazingly, a few moments of paying attention to my breath brought me back to being calm. When a few minutes before that all I was probably capable of was breaking something, now I could probably handle a reasonably complex task, like have a conversation, help one of my girls with homework or come up with the idea for this blog.
The idea of Being Present weaves in and out of all performance. To me, it sounds New Age-y and impractical, I need a quiet room, a cushion, maybe a candle and a gong, right? No way that’s going to fly on the sidelines of the NFC Championship game, these athletes have to find a way to produce great performances in the middle of all this stress. What these athletes realize is that their bodies are always in the present and in any given moment there is no stress, things just are as they are: the crowd is loud, my body is thirsty, my leg is bruised, the score is tied. So by using a simple tactic of focusing on one specific thing: their breath for example, they are able to keep their brains from trying to control what can’t be controlled and getting stressed out as a result. They can then play from a creative and intuitive place rather than a controlling, thinking place. Great things happen when you just let it happen.
It’s kind of funny to me to think that the calmest people in the middle of a tight football game are the players. What’s more, all my shouting and contortions last night still didn’t help the Vikes get to the Superbowl. Sigh.