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Mindfulness - Part 5: Cultivating Calm Awareness

By John McManamy

A story I heard about Lee Trevino goes something like this:

The championship golfer needed to sink a crucial putt. At the critical moment, a train went by. Unfazed, Trevino bore down and drained the shot. A spectator later asked Trevino how he could concentrate on making such a difficult shot with a train going past.

“What train?” Trevino is reputed to have replied.

As well as tuning out the train, Trevino also shut off something every bit as distracting - his mind. He wasn’t thinking about how much prize money he would lose if he missed the putt. He wasn’t thinking about how he would spend his prize money or what he would have for breakfast tomorrow or whether he would rather be marooned on a desert island with Ginger or I Dream of Jeannie.

He just sank the putt.

We can all recall our exceptionally aware moments. Unfortunately, they tend to occur in highly-stressful and often life-threatening situations, such as skidding on glare ice at 60 MPH. This is when our fight or flight response takes over. The frontal lobes go off-line. We literally stop thinking as the faster-processing and more primitive regions of the brain assume executive control.

Fight or flight is normally associated as an over-reaction, but here we are talking about a rare mental state that can only be described as calm awareness. If we had time to think about the dire straights we were in, we would probably panic. Instead, barring bad luck, we successfully avoid wrapping our vehicle around a tree. On one hand, the crisis is over in a micro-second. On the other, it’s as if time were slowed down.

Athletes refer to this state as “the zone.” Something seems to take over. Everything goes right. Nothing goes wrong.

But wasn’t Lee Trevino simply concentrating on his putt? Isn’t that different? In a truly mindful state, one can argue, Trevino would have been aware of just about everything around him - the train, the crowd, an ant a hundred yards away. Maybe the best way of addressing this is to briefly explain the two basic types of meditation:

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