April 1, 2008
Pitching as Liturgy
A spiritual lesson as the season opens.
David Brooks writes in his column today about a book called The Mental ABC's of Pitching by H.A. Dorfman, a sports psychologist. Dorfman, Brooks says, attempts to teach pitchers to focus, "to liberate people from what you might call the tyranny of the scattered mind."
While some advocate free expression and limitless "creativity", Dorfman believes:
Self-discipline is a form of freedom. Freedom from laziness and lethargy, freedom from expectations and demands of others, freedom from weakness and fear - and doubt.
Discipline, however doesn't just come from trying. It comes from building structures that build behaviors. Practice forms routines, which form habits. And habit shapes the mind. "If a player disciplines his behavior, then he will also discipline his mind." For a pitcher, this means practice, obviously, but it also means paying attention only to the job of throwing a baseball. "A pitcher shouldn't judge himself by how the batters hit his pitches, but instead by whether he threw the pitch he wanted to throw."
Brooks writes, "By putting the task at the center, Dorfman illuminates the way the body and the mind communicate with each other. Once there were intellectuals who thought the mind existed above the body, but that's been blown away by evidence. In fact, it's easiest to change the mind by changing behavior."
And here, finally, we find our spiritual analogue. Faith, belief, and trust in a God who is invisible to our senses is tough work, kind of like striking out an all-star hitter. With the noise of the fans, the signs from the catcher, the lessons from the coach playing through the mind, it's too much. For me, with the daily commute, the constant deadlines, the needs of a family, I'm shackled by the tyranny of the scattered mind. God is there, oh yes, but there are so many more pressing things. Life is hyperlinked, and I never complete one thing before moving to the next.
But then there is church. Those two hours once a week. Mine is by no means liturgical, but the routine is there, the faces are there, the words are there. And those actions shape my mind, my spirit.