Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #43:

“I am not against golf, since I cannot but suspect it keeps armies of the unworthy from discovering trout… ”                                 Paul O’Neil

Here’s a thought: Our life focus can be within four different categories regarding what we must deal with. There are the:

  1. Unimportant and Non-Urgent,
  2. Important and Non-urgent,
  3. Unimportant and Urgent, And
  4. Important and Urgent.

Which category or categories do you spend much of your time and energy focusing on? That’s right, when we’re totally honest we have to recognize, more often than not, we’re pay much more attention to the Urgent categories. The two Urgent ones, those things that originally might start out as Unimportant, but morph into Important, as well as Urgent, largely due to the limited attention or outright neglect we gave these things.

Our nature seems to be that we to do the things we like to do, as we put off doing the things we don’t like. It could be making a phone call we know will be unpleasant. So we put it off until the last  possible minute only to discover we’ve missed some significant time-line for actually doing something useful and perhaps doing so quite simply, and instead find we’ve caused some resentment and even hostility with the people we might have been able to handle reasonably well had we taken earlier action. We now face a greater difficulty that necessary.

Maybe it’s some kitchen sink leak that we don’t address because we don’t want to go to the bother of spending the money we think it may require to fix it. Then this defective water fixture bursts, flooding the kitchen and the lower part of our house as well. Now, we need to deal with the original plumbing repair and the damage it caused.

You get the idea. Procrastination and denial usually only create bigger problems. People often say they hate conflict and will try to avoid it at all costs. The cost usually turns out to be more than ever imagined.

I recall a very old TV commercial for a product called STP. STP is a car engine oil that the manufacturer claims will keep your car engine running smoothly and longer. The roughly one-quart size STP container sold at the time for about three dollars. The TV ad has a man dressed as car mechanic holding a container of SPT in one hand, with a car and its hood opened up with smoke coming out from the engine in the background. The mechanic smiles at the TV viewers and says:

“Pay me now,” as he raises up the STP. Then he looks over to the car and says, “Or pay me later.”

In other words, pay $3.00 now for the SPT as smart car preventive maintenance, or you’ll be paying me later for an expensive engine repair job.

We’ve been into denial and procrastination big time when it comes to our Planet. Only recently, with ever-increasing signs resulting from our neglectful and abusive practices, has it become more difficult to ignore (although there are still hold-outs). We are, hopefully, more united in recognizing the need to deal with our environmental systemic neglect and abuse. We’re taking actions we must take in the hope that we are not too late. This crisis has become both Important and Urgent.

Why it is difficult for us to address many things that we actually know we must? It’s that we are way too tolerant. Toleration has its place but often we take it beyond what is useful. It’s as if we have a collective mantra we keep chanting: “It’s not that bad.” Well, too often it really is that bad! Our toleration for stress and our avoidance of conflict, is largely due to the fact that this type of stress is in the form of chronic stress. It’s just there. It comes about ever so slowly and in incremental, tiny doses. It’s insidious and it creeps up on us before we even know it.

Chronic stress basically means that we tolerate it. If you’ve ever had a toothache and, at first it’s minor, you initially tried to tolerate it. You keep putting up with it until finally the pain becomes so intense – so acute – that you frantically call the dentist. You’re in crisis and you’re willing to drop everything in order to address it, then you know what I am talking about. Not that bad has crossed over to that bad.

There’s a famous experiment with a frog in boiling water. When the frog is dropped into a container with boiling water the frog immediately jumps out. But if the frog is placed in a container filled with room temperature water, and you do nothing to disturb it, the frog will stay in the container. The frog can leap out at any time. When the container with the frog is set on a heating element and the heat is turned up and the temperature of the water slowly begins to rise, the frog will remain in the water. At first the frog will even enjoy it. Eventually, as the temperature increases the frog becomes groggy until the water is now boiling, at which point the frog dies. The frog, like us, reacts well to acute and rapid change, but does not do so when the change comes about in small, incremental amounts.  

Learning to see the slow, gradual processes that are around us requires us to also slow ourselves down from the frenetic fast pace we live. We need to be able to pay attention to the subtle, as well as the dramatic. We won’t avoid the fate of the frog until we see that our inability to recognize small and incremental change as the greatest threat.

You could say we have delusional thinking; we have thoughts that tells us we learn from our experiences. It is true that powerful learning does come from direct experience, but there are many times it does not. As a result we over rely on our experience. There are times when our actions have consequences that go beyond our own learning horizon, making it impossible for us to learn from direct experience. Thus we arrive at distorted thinking.

Herein lies a core learning problem: We learn best from experience but often we don’t directly experience the various consequences of many of our decisions. This is so unrecognized that we don’t appreciate this causing us to have huge blind spots. We can’t see what we can’t see. And in order to see beyond ourselves and our experiences we need to slow down, and to take a careful look at the larger picture. This is why we need to see things from a systemic, non-linear perspective.   

It doesn’t matter if you go fishing, or you play golf, or for that matter, do any activity that helps you to slow down. The purpose is to enhance a greater likelihood of becoming more a mindful, more reflective, and a more conscious person. This highly valuable way of being comes about from cultivating some type of regular and consistent practice – some activity – that facilitates your slowing down. If your practice does get you to do so, then this is a very worthy endeavor.

The goal of golf is to try to score as low as possible. The purpose of golf is what you decide it to be. Fishing works the same way. Catching fish may be the goal, but your purpose for fishing is entirely up to you. Your intention matters.

Whether you are out on a golf course or wadding waist deep in a stream, or you are doing something else, for sole the purpose of becoming a more peaceful person, you may need to check out what you bring with you to this endeavor. If you intend to use this activity to slow yourself down you’ll need to leave some things back home. What’s in the package you might be bringing along without even realizing it will shape the ultimate result of the activity.

Let’s start with golfers.

Most golfers bring to the golf course a strong desire to look good and not embarrass themselves. They seek approval, plus they tote along their various judgments and assessments, constantly thinking judgments about the course, how the weather may affect their play, about the other players, and so on. Additionally they are usually only two strokes away from becoming upset. A couple of poor shots, a missed putt or two, and they’re close to having a terrible day. Within this package, you might say, is the way they’re being on the course. They may not be conscious of bringing these things along but these are the things that are bound to determine how much fun they will or will not have.

A fisherperson isn’t guaranteed of doing any better. They too need to check the baggage they’ve brought along from their hectic life to take stock in seeing exactly what state they are about creating. We cannot afford to automatically assume we’re impervious to our package – our baggage – because by failing to recognize we’ve dragged some along, we’re setting ourselves up for a dismal result.

There are golfers and fish people who will tell you their goal is to enjoy themselves, and to be out there freed from expectations and demands they otherwise place upon themselves or see as imposed from their demanding life.

Here’s some thoughts for being better able to generate a more effective and positive state of mind before playing a golf match, or prior to doing some fishing, or before doing literally anything you’re hoping will improve life.

Ask yourself:

  1. What’s the worst that could happen?
  2. What’s the best that could happen?

With some reflection on these two questions you’ll likely see that whatever you deem as the worst, as well as, the best, possible case scenarios, no matter what, ultimately isn’t going to last very long. At the end of the day, or maybe the week, you’ll have survived just fine. The earth will continue to rotate on its axis. At first, this might startle you, but when you come to see how often you’re preoccupied in putting lots of energy into situations that ultimately don’t mean all that much. We are operating out of false beliefs.

With the worst that could happen:                                                                                                                        

Say you catch zero – nada – no fish; or maybe you wind up losing your tackle in the process of that really big one that gets away. Let’s say your ball from your line drive off the green veers off deep into the woods. You search in vain but never find it; next you get caught up in a sand trap, and end your day you have a score in the high 80’s.

With such results you imagine: I won’t look very good or you think others are going to make fun of you. Maybe some even do. So what? This will not last very long, and you, and life, will move on.

The best that could happen:

You catch a lot of fish and/or a humongous fish. You have your picture with your trophy fish taken. Your golf score is in the 60’s. You imagine getting a lot of attention and you’re the talk of the boat yard or club house. So what to this, as well? This too shall pass, and then you and life will get back to life as usual.

So here’s question # 3:

What do you want? What is it that you really want from golfing? Fishing? Or whatever activity you decide to do?

Spoiler alert: I’ve already said it. It is totally up to you. You can decide what it is you want.

On a four hour golfing round, you’ll spend about fifteen minutes actually hitting the ball. The other three hours and 45 minutes you’ll be walking around on the course. The whole golf game will rest on the way you are being on the course, and will radically affect your game. How you are being will more than likely improve your goal, as well.  

Fishing is similar. If you bring all your usual preoccupation of fretting and worrying – the thing you do so well in your everyday life – along with you to the trout stream, your fishing experience will probably not pan out very well, even if you do catch a ton of fish. You’ll be unavailable. You’ll miss out on the catching of fish. You will also miss out on the possibility of relaxing and getting into a calmer state.

There is an old adage: “So much to worry about, so little time.”

Worry is such a waste of time. Worrying – and being consumed by worry – won’t change a thing. Also it will not get you to take appropriate actions. It is more likely to paralyze you. If we are to focus on anything it ought to be on those things that are Important and Urgent, or Important but soon-to-become-Urgent.

The goal of any of our activities is always about what we are doing. The purpose, however, is about who we are being. These two are quite different. The given goal usually comes along with the particular activity, whereas the purpose is what we decide it is to be. We have a large say in this.  

My suggestion: Take the time to enjoy being here (wherever HERE happens to be). Open your eyes. Look around. Breathe. Take in the beauty around you. Smell the different fragrances. Catch the breezes swaying the trees. Take in the colors and numerous shades. It’s a beautiful day. That’s what fishing (and golfing, or finger painting, etc.) is all about. Or it can be if you make it so.