Friday, July 16, 2010

The Sacred Life Lesson I Learned from Beer Pong

Peak Performance, Empathy, and Power

I know, it's a weird thing to admit. But it's true. I learned an astonishing lesson about the power of empathy while playing beer pong.

No ordinary beer pong game, this. It started innocently (!?) enough. But I was playing with my "Warrior-Friend" (let's call him Ivan), so it very quickly became much more.

You may have a Warrior-Friend, too. You know. The guy you hang out with who always challenges you (often without explicitly challenging you) to be your best? Even when playing silly games (like beer pong...or golf)? Whether it's serious or just for fun, it's always...serious. A little competition that is good for the soul. It keeps me on my toes, as long as my ego doesn't take over.

Anyways, Ivan and I were being silly, playing a game of beer pong. But, of course, he was a Fraternity guy in college, and I'd only ever played once before in my life, so I was at a serious disadvantage.

OK, I was getting killed.

I've come to expect that from Ivan. Then, suddenly, something shifted. I started to catch up. I started to feel like I was on a comeback. And I made the mistake of mentioning it.

"Oh. Hmm. Why did you say that?" Ivan replied, looking wan. "I wasn't really paying attention. I was just goofing around. Now, I feel bad. For you. And for me. Because now, I have to put you away. It won't be fun anymore. Drago is back."

Suddenly, he took on the look of Dolph Lundgren in Universal Soldier.
(Note: I didn't know until just now doing an Internet search that Drago was the character Lundgren played in Rocky IV. How weird is THAT?)

He explained how he would now have to be all business, and with mechanical, methodical precision, he would have to crush me.

And indeed, he proceeded to crush me. I could not match the precision, regardless of how intensely I concentrated. He was unbeatable.

So, in a moment of desperation, I asked, "OK, how does one beat Drago?"

"With the heart. That's the only way to beat Drago."

A glimmer of hope! "That's something I'm pretty good at," I thought.

So I contemplated what that might mean. I experimented with what to do. I started trying to feel like I was winning. I tried to "put my heart into it". I tried a bunch of things.

It took a while until I stumbled on something. I tried to feel the ball. I tried to imagine what the ball would feel like when I struck it. And how it would feel if I struck it "just right", so that it went into the cup.

And that's when the game changed.

Suddenly, quite noticeably, I was holding my own. The death spiral stopped. My shots were harder for Ivan to handle, so his accuracy declined. My shots were also much closer to the cup. But, it was too little, too late. I lost.

Like Sean Connery in "Never Say Never Again", despite the likelihood of pain and failure, I asked for one last rematch.

This time, I started the game with a new toolset. The more I used it, the better I got. The more I used it, the more I could not only "be the ball", but could "feel the ball". Even more than that,
I could feel what the ball was feeling.

I could EMPATHIZE with the ball.

That was a strange moment. I'd been coached for years (and coached others myself) to "Be the Ball". This was the first time I really understood it, and why it mattered.

I won. And not just by a little.

Now, there are several morals to this story.

The first is: "Never waste an opportunity to learn."
The second is: "Some of the greatest discoveries in life come while playing."
The third is: "Don't play beer-pong with a frat guy unless you are willing to suffer the consequences."

But the final lesson, and the really powerful, sacred lesson, is this:
"Empathy is not just for sissies."

When we connect deeply with the world around us, when we connect with our hearts as well as our minds, we reach a level of communion that opens up deep, unrealized potentials within ourselves. The truth is that we transcend duality, and start to incorporate more of the world into our "scope of identity", our "realm" so to speak. It's love and compassion that lets us do this, and empowers us to levels of achievement that are extraordinary.

Since this experience happened in May, I've had other experiences that have convinced me of the deep, resonating power of Empathy, and I'm excited to share them. If you're up for it, plan to join me for an evening of "Peak Performance, Empathy, and Power", a workshop on Thursday, July 29th at Firefly Willows. Expect the unexpected. It'll be fun and interesting.

Love to all!

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