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We Golf. Therefore, the Tao Is.

We intuit the Tao. That’s why our active hobbies engage us.

Photo by Peter Drew / Unsplash

“One should live out one’s days playing at certain games—sacrificing, singing, and dancing.”
Plato, The Laws.

Do you have an active hobby?

Good. You probably intuit the Tao.

I say “active” hobby because I’m distinguishing things like gardening, golf, and cooking (“active”) from watching TV and eating (“inactive”). Active hobbies require a fair amount of engagement.

Consider golf.

You need to manipulate the club. You need to understand distance and slope. You need to see how distance and slope interact with the different clubs. You need to appreciate weather conditions. You need to understand (a ton of) rules, as well as golf etiquette. You even need a rudimentary knowledge about turf (rough, fairway, apron, greens).

In short, golf entails a lot of calculation, measurement, and background knowledge, which you must then apply in the physical activity of wielding an instrument.

It’s involved.

It’s that involvement that helps make it a relaxing pursuit. Golf has enough “moving parts” to engage your attention, thereby taking you away from the hustle and stress of everyday life for a few glorious hours.

And then there’s this:

It happens all the time, so much so, if you search “golf tantrum,” you’ll get more videos, gifs, memes, and images than dimples in a case of golf balls.

Golf isn’t serious. That’s what makes it relaxing. But to be proficient at it, you need to engage it like it’s serious.

Even though it means we run the risk of becoming that guy.

The Tao Intuition

Recall the Reality Spectrum.

Act of Existence/Tao————>Essence/Accident-->Being/Substance

Viewed from the Aldous Huxley approach (The Doors of Perception), the Reality Spectrum looks like this:

The Act of Existence DOOR Essence-Being,

The Tao DOOR Accident-Substance.

All things on the right side of that door are wrapped in subject-object. Action, for instance, always has a subject (actor) and object (the thing acted upon). Language, too, is wrapped in subject-object: adjectivized nouns verb adverbially . . . on subjects and objects that we can measure, judge, or count.

Even our thoughts. Look at your moment-by-moment day, including the thought parade that marches through it. It’s all subject-object all the time. You’re either focused on something or obsessing about yourself or maybe both.

Now, if there is the Tao reality, the world of subject-object isn’t it. Every piece of evidence for the Tao (explored here, here, and here) is wrapped in non-evidence: evidence that there is something that is neither subject nor object that stands “beyond” (on the other side of a door).

And if there is that Tao reality, we have an intuition for it. We want to be in it even if we don’t know we want to be in it.

As a corollary, we want to get out of the right two-thirds of the Reality Spectrum, to escape the world of subject-object. If you live in Detroit, you probably dream occasionally about escaping to an exotic location like Hawaii. Such a trip first requires you to leave Detroit.

I think this is what an active hobby like golf lets us do: it helps us leave the world of subject-object, even if the hobby requires some upfront work (packing up, getting on the road, dealing with Detroit traffic).

Golf isn’t relaxing for the beginner. In fact, like anything worth pursuing, it’s fraught with frustration and stress.

The relaxation sets in after golf habits start to form. If you’re on the tee box, checking your grip, measuring your distance as you address the ball, wondering if your feet are at shoulder width: that ain’t relaxation. It’s once those things become habitual, and the associated thoughts contracted, that relaxation starts.

All the skills and knowledge fall into the background for the proficient golfer. He just plays. He is engaged in the game. He is taken outside himself, suspended, as it were, between the subject (himself) and the object (the game). He is focused on something outside himself (thereby detaching him from subject) but that thing outside himself (the game of golf) isn’t very important and therefore is less likely to lead to the attachment and stress associated with focusing on something truly serious, like our job.

In the words of Jungian analyst Robin Daniels: “[P]lay is an experience of the transitional area between subjective and objective.” The Virgin Eye.

That transitional area is crucial. It lifts us out of the subject-object (takes us out of Detroit). When we aren’t enmeshed in subject or object, we are lifted out of the right side of the Reality Spectrum and, even though it’s not the same thing as opening the door of reality and walking in (arriving at our hotel in Hawaii), it allows us, we might say, a glimpse over the door. Specifically, it gives us a glimpsy feel of what it’s like not to be trapped solely in the world of essence/accident-->being/substance because we are suspended between the right side of the Reality Spectrum’s constitutive parts.

When our plane is in the air, after all, it feels pretty good, even if we’re still far away from Hawaii.

The Tao is the greatest, so we invest heavily in its pursuit

Go back to the temper tantrum dude.

I don’t claim to know why people lose their temper on the golf course, but it’s obviously wrapped in taking the unserious seriously. A game is, by definition, unserious, but then we start to take it seriously and become that guy. Every active hobby runs this risk: the gardener frets when his flower bulbs don’t come up, the fantasy football team owner freaks out when his quarterback takes a knee, the mushroomer gets angry when someone gets to her favorite spot first.

Yet despite their promise of frustration and disappointment, we pursue active hobbies, sometimes zealously, often at great expenditures of money, time, and energy. The Tao is the greatest thing, even if elusive, so it makes sense that we’d spend enormous resources in its pursuit, even if not consciously, even if driven only by a vague intuition, and even if the pursuit (an active hobby) is merely the leaving part of the trip.

We golf . . . and bowl, brew beer, birdwatch, and bake.

Therefore, the Tao is.