Feb 10, 2009

Tennis and the choice for Peace

A few months ago, during a league doubles tennis match, the ladies I played against got angry at my partner for calling a ball out which they thought was clearly in. I also saw the ball land about five inches outside the line, so when they questioned me; I confirmed my partner's call. One of the women got even angrier and continued to make disparaging comments and accusations throughout the match. A part of me was focused on my own mental reaction. I always try to watch my mind as I listen to people because by my feelings I can tell if I'm responding to a situation with the ego or the right mind. If I feel upset in any way, that's a clear sign that I'm interpreting the situation with the ego.

As I watched my mind, surprisingly this time (I am not beyond reacting to one thing or another when I play tennis), all I felt was love and compassion because as Kenneth Wapnick quotes from (I think,) Plato, "we are all fighting a hard battle." The battle, of course, is with our own ego who works diligently at preserving our sense of individuality. (see: Be Kind for Everyone you Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle )

Seeing my opponents' anger, I recognized that they were no different than I am. Though at that moment they were angry and I was not, I certainly had the capacity to be angry. As long as we perceive ourselves as living in a body, we all feel the same pain and suffering associated with dealing with the ego's thought system of separation, guilt and attack. When we get angry at someone, all we are doing is acting according to the ego's plan, which involves projecting our anger onto others, so we can live the illusion that we are innocent and somebody else is responsible for our suffering. Anger is always the result of interpretation.

Perhaps it will be helpful to remember that no one can be angry at a fact. It is always an interpretation that gives rise to negative emotions, regardless of their seeming justification by what appears as facts (M-17.4:12) .

As I looked at these women and recognized that they were no different than me, it was easy to feel compassionate toward them. Their only mistake was that they had chosen to look at the situation through the ego's lens of separation.

By choosing not to react to their accusations, I was able to respond with kindness. My words, inspired by love, were unclouded by judgment or resentment. I experienced an amazing sense of freedom and peace as I talked with them. They eventually lost the match, but toward the end they had relaxed. They smiled more and they looked as if a weight had been lifted off their shoulders.

I've been listening to Ken Wapnick's workshops on tape about A Course in Miracles almost every day for the last three years. Through them, I'm beginning to see how simple the practice of A Course in Miracles can be. He often talks about how when we are faced with an attack, by our reaction, we either reinforce the attacker's choice for the ego and make the dream of separation real; or we undo the ego and its dream of separation by demonstrating that there is another way to look at the world.

When we react to an attack by feeling hurt, angry, or unfairly treated, by our pain, we send the message to the attacker that his attack must have been real because it had an effect on us. By suffering, physically or emotionally, we establish that the attacker is guilty of causing us harm and by doing so we reinforce his choice for the ego. Had I reacted to the angry woman with anger, even if my words had been civil, I would have mentally given her the message that her attack was real because it had an effect on me. If attack is possible, then separation must be real because one is against another.

When we don't react to an attack, by showing no signs of having been harmed, we tell people mentally, that their attack had no effect on us. That can only mean that in reality they have done nothing. Without the dark lens of blame clouding our vision, we are then able respond from a loving place, as if literally nothing has ever happened between us. Giving people the message that they are innocent is the most loving thing we can do. Not only will they be blessed, but the love that is extended through us will reflect back on us.

Within the practice of A Course in Miracles, every encounter is an opportunity to undo the dream of separation by demonstrating peace. We don't have to say a word. Even as we face the most vicious attack, simply by choosing not to suffer, we demonstrate that attack is impossible and therefore the separation never happened.

In Chapter 14 the section called "The Decision of guiltlessness," makes this point very clear:

Teach him, that, whatever he may try to do to you, your perfect freedom from the belief that you can be harmed shows him that he is guiltless. He can do nothing that can hurt you, and by refusing to allow him to think he can, you teach him that the Atonement, which you have accepted for yourself, is also his. There is nothing to forgive. No one can hurt the Son of God. (T-14. III. 7:3-6)

As I stood by the refreshment table after the tennis match to get a drink, the woman who had been the angriest during the match approached me and began to talk to me as if nothing had happened. She appeared to have completely forgotten her attacks on me. I listened to her, always keeping tabs on my own reactions, and soon, she was telling me about how difficult her relationship with her teenage son was and how stressed she was about it. She had learned through another player that I have three teenagers and she was asking me for advice. I sat with her for over a half hour and mostly listened. I saw clearly that her anxiety was caused by her unconscious choice to perceive the situation with the ego, but I didn't try to explain that to her. Instead, I comforted her in the simplest way. I knew that my own choice for peace was letting her know, louder than any words could, that there is an alternative to perceiving the world with the ego and that she could also make that choice.