The following is a true story.
After an hour-long stint at my father’s gym today, I showered, dressed, and made my way down the hallway, past the echoing pock of squash courts, toward the exit. On my right I noticed a room I had never entered before. The indoor basketball court. I peered through the glass window to see if it was empty. It was. I went in.
Growing up I played lots of organized sports, and basketball was one of them. I was, to put it kindly, not a strong player. I recall making a glorious jumpshot, once, from near the right boundary line. Other than that, my memories are mercifully hazy. Still, despite my lousiness, I know my way around a court, and this afternoon I decided to check out my free throw skills.
Not pretty. Not. Pretty. Luck donated the first shot, heavy off the backboard, but a dozen more tries went from bad to worse. Even though the ball is much smaller, proportionate to my size, than it was in my days of league games, it still felt enormous, clunky, and awkward. Ninety percent of the time, I missed left; when I tried to correct, my form went haywire. Every shot was punctuated by a little hop off the floor, which, from free throw distance, is not only embarrassing (like I needed all my strength to make the ball go 15 measly feet), but also made me feel like a stuttering wind-up doll. Hop – miss. Hop – miss.
Then I remembered a passage from Turning The Mind Into An Ally where Mipham talks about playing golf in order to illustrate a principle of meditation. I had just mentioned it that morning to a friend, over breakfast. The point, Mipham says, is not to worry about where the ball is going to go, but to focus on making a good swing. Enjoying the swing.
So now, instead of trying to make the shot, I decided to feel the throw. I remembered the delicious sensation of the ball spinning backward off the fingertips as it leaves the hands. A smooth, full-body motion, with no afterhop: that’s what I was after. I didn’t look at the hoop. Just gazed straight ahead at the familiar blue padding on the gym wall.
Swish. Swish. A miss off the rim, but it felt good. Swish again. And again.
I smiled, returned the amber-colored Wilson to the bin, put on my scarf and left.