Yesterday I gathered with a couple friends to catch up. As the evening wore on, we ended up creating and playing a game. (I didn’t have a hand in the creation of it, only in the enthusiasm to play!)
There were 5 buckets, from short to tall lined up one behind the other. A sixth bucket was over to the side of the line up – the final bucket to score in and win the game. We used crushed cans to aim into the buckets.
You had to go in order, from first to sixth, making each ‘basket’ to win the game. We had a lot of fun playing, cheering each other on, and giving each other tips for better aim.
I’ve been thinking all morning about the fun we had and about what I learned during the game. My friend Holly kept telling me about follow-through. And how to step my foot forward. She kept talking about how my body was a line-staying in line with where you want the can to go.
Every time my throw was extra wobbly or off track, she’d say something about it spinning the wrong way. My hand turned right at the end, or I released the can too early or too late.
I’d heard these things before, I remembered. Frisbee, bowling, corn-hole. Someone would say something about follow-through.
I listened closely to her, I tried to understand what she meant. It didn’t come naturally to me. The follow through with my arm felt unnatural, but satisfying in a strange way. She said that follow-through keeps the momentum.
Of course we couldn’t help but notice how her tips about throwing related to life. And at the end of playing this game for hours, I learned these things: Focus, intention, follow-through, steadiness, and more focus.
It was remarkable how throwing a crushed can into a bucket became such a revelatory experience. As I stood there, can in hand, the task seemed impossible. How was I supposed to make this happen? How does anyone make this happen? Heaving something into the air and then somehow it’s supposed to magically land into a basket??
Logically of course, I knew it wasn’t that special. It was physics. It wasn’t a big deal. I saw my friend Billy toss the cans with an effortless throw and they would easily sink into wherever he aimed.
But standing there, it felt impossible. My first few throws brought back memories of some past version of me. The one that “couldn’t do it”. Really, she didn’t want to try. It felt like my body didn’t work that way. Once I started weight lifting, training, running – I realized that my body could do anything. Three months of ‘quarantine’ had given way to that disconnected me. The one that didn’t want to connect the dots.
I thought, okay, if I just keep doing this enough times, I’ll eventually know how to get it in. There was truth in that, my body was getting accustomed to what I was doing with every throw. But there was Holly, guiding me with her words. I was doubtful, what difference would follow-through make? Releasing the can at the right time? It seemed arbitrary.
And yet, I listened and completely detached from the idea of it working (just trying to do what she said and feeling silly about it) and the can went into the bucket! I was shocked. I was empowered. I was motivated to understand, to get this right.
So I took my turn again and stood, looking at my targets. I realized I had to focus. I had to tune everything out except my objective. I looked at the first bucket and I zoomed in with my attention. I felt around it with my eyes. I imagined something flying into the bucket and landing. I felt the distance between us and the trajectory the can would have to follow to meet its aim.
Okay, that helped. I got that part. So I threw my can. It landed far off target. “You didn’t follow through.” Holly would say. Or, ‘you were in line but you put too much into it (or not enough)’.
Hm, so my focus, attention, and visualizing was only part of the puzzle. My body had to link up with my mind. It was like all the parts of me had to understand each other. All with the same goal.
I got a little better. Still right before releasing I would lose focus, or not pay attention to which way my hand was turned.
More focus, more follow through, more holistic attention of my body and mind. Too much focus of my mind on the goal and I would lose connection with my body. Being too much in my body and I would have a nice throw, but not hit the target.
The sun set and we continued playing into the darkness. We were determined to finish this round-someone would have to sink that last basket. The sixth and final bucket in the line up. A terracotta planter that was rapidly becoming almost impossible to see in the darkness. “Just throwing into a dark void.”
We stayed committed. Desperately waiting for someone to end the game. And eventually, before we all gave up, a can flew into the dark air and landed into the planter with a satisfying thud.
We couldn’t believe it! We ran over to make sure it went in, it did! We high-fived all around and rejoiced. Billy said a weight had been lifted once we realized it went in, we were free. We had done the seemingly impossible. Dunked crushed cans into far away assorted buckets and planters in the darkness of night.
On the drive home I kept smiling, thinking about the fun we’d had. I thought about the intimate mind-space I tuned into, as I zoomed in on the bucket and felt into the objective of my can landing inside of it.
The last basket I made, I had adjusted my hand so that it wasn’t spinning the can right before I released it. I felt how everything was in line then. I was focused, I felt into my objective, I stood in absolute presence, I linked my mind with my body’s movements. It felt sure. Like everything was connected in one crystallized, fluid moment.
I thought about Holly’s words and how they made so much sense. Her tips were helping me to undo my distraction, my own contorting of my knowing. I seemed to sabotage myself in my defiance of focus.
Part of me resisted all the parts of me syncing up. Or lending my absolute focus to a task, especially to completion. I wanted to have bad form and make the basket anyway. I wanted to not really try. I felt shame in the trying. Shame in having good form. Shame in tuning into my objective with such undistracted determination.
Every time, I felt this little flutter of disbelief. A little whisper to give up, to not try and just laugh it off, or that it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter.
But it felt like it did matter. I wanted it to. I wanted to hold steady in my intention. I wanted to stand in that sweet spot of focus and follow through and feel my Being vibrate with absolute clarity.
I wondered in what areas of my life I listened to that disbelief. Where is it that I lose focus right before release? Where is it that I give way to haziness instead of clarity?
Life is much like a made up (albeit amazing) game of crushed cans and buckets. None of it really matters and yet, it matters so much. Every moment we get to stand in absolute presence and clarity of intention. Using our attention like a magical tool to hone in on our objective.
Although making the goal was exciting, it was standing there ‘at the plate’ preparing to throw my can that kept me engaged. The endless trying to get it right. Tweaking and readjusting and playing with attention and mind-body connection every time.
Is that what we’re here for? This practice in the alchemy of focus, attention, connection, and follow-through?
It’s as though life sets up endless made-up games for us to play. Some with higher stakes than others. Sometimes it’s a familiar game and sometimes it seems impossible. But the process seems the same. You step up to the plate. Assess. Focus. Hone in. Know your objective. Prepare your stance. Listen. Connect all the parts of you in knowing your objective and…give it a shot.