The first time I heard this strange idea was in a movie called “First Knight”. Lancelot was explaining to a young man how he does all his stunning sword fight tricks. The young man confirmed time and time again: “Yes, I can do that”, until he suddenly got dumbfounded by Lancelot’s remark: “And you have to not care whether you live or die.”
This resonated with me. I have experienced on a number of occasions that as soon as my mind gets caught up on what I am doing so as to ensure the “right” outcome, I mess things up. When I care too much about getting the right response from a person, I do not get it. When I want the “right” outcome from my prayer, it usually doesn’t come. When I am too focused on winning in a sport, I start losing. When I really want my life to go a certain way, I start pushing too hard, and… nothing.
But when I just relax and become myself, other people start telling me that they see me doing something special. When I forget about achieving, there’s no more tension in my mind and body, and my brain starts doing what is right. A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post about it. But what prompted me to write about it this time was seeing some dancers perform at the 2018 Irish Dance Worlds Championship in Glasgow.
It’s a really high-end competition, and as I watched the dancers do incredible tricks with their feet, I kept thinking about this phenomenon: an exceptional dancer will not just do all the right movements; they will fly on the stage. When you see someone flying, you know it. It strikes you. You can feel it in your gut that there’s something special about it. As I thought about it this morning, one word came to my mind – play. It was as if a child was playing in his backyard, totally at ease, totally oblivious to whether there were others watching.
Wayne Jacobsen recently shared in a podcast how a world-class golf-player was teaching him to hit the ball right. He said: “You think it’s your hands that control the club. But it’s actually the other way around: it’s your club that controls your hands. When you focus on what to do with your hands to get the shot right, you will miss. You will immediately tense up, and your consciousness will play a trick on you. But if you relax, your body will know what to do.” It worked.
Caring gets us tensed up, mental relaxation turns on our instincts. No wonder Jesus said in Matthew 5:31 (Message): “What I am trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.” Sounds like something a Zen-master would say. The key to doing something exceptionally well is to “not care about the outcome”. It’s about feeling the vibe – of the music or something else – and going along with your senses. Your heart will lead you, and your body will know what to do.
What life-coaches do to prepare world-class athletes to excel in their sport is they help them turn off their minds because our minds always want to control the outcome. You can only fly if you grow wings. You can only grow wings if you see or hear something that moves you to the depths of your being. It’s a response to some encounter with Beauty. Like Peter who was able to walk on water when called by Jesus. He soared above the churning abyss because he knew he was called. But when his mind kicked in, he started drowning.
Excellence is something we relax into. It’s counter-intuitive but it works. We think it’s up to us, but it’s not. It’s our response to being called. We get a call and we follow, not because we must but because it’s irresistible. We feel the vibe of it. We sense the life in it. We want to respond. “Dance, then, wherever you may be. I am the Lord of the Dance, said He. And I’ll lead you all, wherever you be, and I’ll lead you all in a dance, said He.”