Roger That

I woke early last Sunday morning; shortly after one. Normally this is cause for distress, realizing another sleepless night may have arrived. This time around, however, was different. A sense of delight pulsed through my body. Simmering excitement suddenly came to full boil. Roger Federer was playing in the final of this year’s Australian Open.

Wrapping myself in blankets, I moved to the couch and opened BBC News’ live blog of the event. Roger, I quickly learned, had taken the first set in twenty-five minutes. A cakewalk was anticipated, but not delivered. The match ended up going a full five sets with Federer winning 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. Elated and exhausted, I lay down to sleep just before five.

Up again around eight, I went right to YouTube for highlights. Then I watched a few post-match interviews. “How does it feel?” “What will you do next?” and “Congratulations!” were the reference points for most of these exchanges. What caught my ear, however, were the moments Roger spoke about the sets he lost.

Of the second, specifically, he mentioned thinking “too far ahead. What if I won?” he wondered and then “froze a little bit.” One interviewer observed that Federer had become “preoccupied with things that might happen in the future” at this point. The ease and grace with which he had opened the match - qualities that once caused David Foster Wallace to liken Roger Federer to a religious experience - faded.   

This somatic tradition affirms that a gift lay within each of us. Woven into the fabric of our being - woven in as the very essence of our being - is a treasure that awaits offering to this world. Known by such phrases as ‘buddha nature’ and ‘basic goodness’, this gift is a unique manifestation of the knowingness and love each of us embodies.

Notice the use of such terms as ‘lay within’ and ‘woven into’ and ‘basic goodness’ here. This gift is built into who each of us is. It is not something we have to manufacture or earn. It is not available to a few, denied all others. The gift of being is fundamental to who we are - which is not to say it is always evident.

For most of us, basic goodness is covered much of the time. Rather than expressing freely, buddha nature is filtered. It is filtered by the thick and distorting curtain that a habitual preoccupation with thinking places between us and the immediacy of life.

We all know this to some extent. It’s why we commonly note the importance of being in the moment. This is simply another way of saying, “I need to be in life without thinking so much.” It’s another way of affirming that something happens, something presents itself when we are able to show up in a relatively open and unobstructed way.

This something might be a sensitive word. It might be warmth that lets others relax. It might be an ability to cook nourishing meals or encourage coworkers to take risks. This something might come into this world as a cross-court backhand that leaves even casual observers feeling they have witnessed the beauty of life itself.

Whatever the case, this gift lay waiting in each of us. Faced with such certainty, we become charged with the task of developing our capacity to resist “think(ing) too far ahead.” Put another way, we are charged with - perhaps responsible for - developing our capacity not to distort or freeze the inherent expressiveness of who we are, but to let it flow for the benefit of all beings. To do this, we meditate.

- Neil