Mindlessness is the essence of great golf. It is not the intricate understanding of the mind boggling detail of the mechanism, rather, it is the natural and uninterfered (wu-wei) with flowing motion that allows the swing to happen effortlessly and naturally.
I've often stated that the average 20 handicap "online tinkerer" of the golf swing knows far more about technique in the golf swing than the average Tour professional, yet, why is it that the professional could spot the "all knowing" ten strokes a side and still not break a sweat coasting to victory, and all the while not know much about how he does it? Why does his swing look so simple and effortless when the average "golf mechanic" looks like he's trying to wrestle an alligator out of a golf cart?
I see it day in and day out when I teach. Without fail, the golfer who simplifies his swing and his understanding of the swing leaves the lesson hitting great shots for little more reason than he has freed up his mind to allow his body to make a swing. He hits shot after shot saying "it felt like I did nothing" or "it feels effortless".
The mind becomes resistant over time to this "ignorant" feeling, "thinking" there must be more to it or I must have to try harder, or worse yet, trying to understand exactly how they did it. As soon as they interfere, their momentary bliss dissappears and is replaced with a chunk or a skull that went half as far and took twice as much effort. Less truly is more.
Once you have had time to practice the "Breath Watching" technique from the Introduction article, you are ready to learn how to carry it over onto the golf course. It's important that you have practiced this technique to the point that you are quite proficient at completely clearing your mind and maintaining that clear mental state for a long period of time as this is a fundamental principal of Mushin Golf and the fundamentals in any endeavor are always the most important.
If you cannot perform this task in the quiet, peaceful setting of your home under ideal conditions, then it will be significantly more difficult for you to carry this over to the golf course where you have likely known nothing other than thinking, analyzing and judging and will have to combat many of your other mental demons, distractions and habitual swing thoughts.
To begin, start on the putting green. After you have hit several putts, take one ball and set it ten feet away from a hole on the green. Standing behind the hole, take two deep breaths as you did from the introduction article. They need not be as deep, simply take a slow, deep breath through your nose into your belly, pause, and then slowly exhale through your nose.
Focus on NOTHING but your breathing. Visualize the air entering your nose and traveling down to your lungs. Focus 100% of your attention to your breathing while looking at your putt. It is not necessary to have any internal dialogue about the putt such as thinking about the break, the pace and especially not your stroke.
You need to only focus on your breathing and completely clear your mind of all conscious thought. If it takes more than two breaths, take as many as are necessary in order for your mind to become clear of all thought and your body to become relaxed and tension free.
Once your mind is completely clear, let yourself flow into the putt with ease and confidence. As you setup to the putt, do not think about your alignment, your line, the speed or even your target. Do not think about anything, not even about "thinking nothing." Continue your breathing as you set over the ball. Your muscles should be completely relaxed. As you continue your focus on your breathing, let the stroke happen without any thought.
If you made it, fine, if not, fine. Retrieve the ball and repeat the process until you can do so without any thought ever entering your mind, from the preshot routine, to the actual stroke, to the post shot routine, simply focus on your breathing and maintain your clear mind.
At first, you may think to yourself that you had a clear mind, but "listen" closer and you will likely realize there is all kinds of quick mental chatter flashing across your mind throughout the entire process. You will catch your mind drifting during your preshot breaths.
You may catch yourself reading the putt to yourself in your mind or consciously picking a target to putt to or having a thought about your stroke. Once you become aware of just how many thoughts you really do have through this process, you may begin to think to yourself that it is impossible to "not think." Trust me, it's not.
But it is very important for you to first practice your breath watching away from the course and do so diligently as it will carry over to the golf course. When you practice now, let your practice sessions follow the routine from above. Always hit a shot going through your entire routine, from beginning to end. As you move over to full swings, you will see that this will prove much more challenging as you likely have a million and one swing thoughts or habitual thoughts that you aren't fully aware of.
Start with putting as it is the simplest of all strokes. Then move to chipping and bunker play, then to half wedges and lastly, full shots. It is likely that you will begin to notice for the first time that you have many of the same recurring thoughts pop up at different times. You may find yourself thinking about aligning yourself to the target or lining up your clubface.
It's not that you won't do these things anymore, it's simply that you must not "think" about doing these things unless you are working on a single change in your swing. Your conscious mind must be fully clear in order for your sub and unconscious minds to work in harmony with your body.
It's so easy for your conscious mind to "scream louder" than the other parts of your mind, like an immature child, and it must be tamed in order for your body and subconscious mind to get a clear picture of exactly what it needs to do. If you've hit one great shot, you can hit a million, you simply need to get your conscious mind out of the way to "allow" for it to happen.
As you become proficient at clearing your mind when your hitting your putts, it will seem very strange at first. You may feel like you don't have control, yet you are hitting very good putts. This "mindless" form of putting is very similar to how a child putts. With no thought or concern for the results, they step and slap at the ball and make putts with ease.
They have no fear of a miss because they have no thought of a miss. They have no thought at all for that matter. They are simply a part of the moment, stroking the ball for the pure pleasure it brings, not because of the score they may shoot.
By having a mind so clear of mechanical thought, doubt, worry and concern for results, they can make a completely free stroke with their mind and body working together effortlessly. For most adult golfers, their minds are so full of so much techno-babble about the mechanics of the swing that they can't imagine making a swing without half a dozen thoughts, and the results depict a clear reflection of their mind - a jumbled up collection of parts haphazardly thrown together.
What Can You Expect?
As you begin this process of learning to clear your mind completely before each shot, you will likely feel out of control at first. The wise will recognize this as being in tune with the old adage of "you must first give up control to gain control."
Your grip on your mind is similar to your grip on your club, not too tight, but not too loose either. The purpose of clearing your mind isn't for your mind to go and take a vacation, it is so that your mind can be completely clear of useless clutter and distracting thought so that you can effortlessly focus your concentration on the task at hand in the moment.
Your first few shots will open up your awareness to the incredible amount of "little" thoughts going across your mind. Don't fight these thoughts and try and force them out of your mind. Flow with them, let them pass like clouds across the sky and they will float on by.
You will likely experience success during your very first practice session and it will amaze you, the quality of shots you hit. But it will come at a "price." You will almost certainly "recognize" that your mind was clear and immediately, your mind is no longer clear! The shock of having a completely clear mind and hitting a great shot because of this will cause you to want to "try" and reproduce the same result and will have you "thinking" how to do it again.
You must never "try" to do anything in your golf swing. "Trying" implies that it is something that can't be done easily or without a great deal of effort and struggle, otherwise you would simply "do". You don't want to "try" and clear your mind, you simply must "do." In between trying and doing is a large chasm. You will see the results and want to try and reproduce them.
The harder you try, the further you push the positve results away. You will be thinking how you did it and try to figure it out to no avail. The answer of how to do it again is right in front of you, simply clear your mind as you did before. Don't try and clear your mind and don't try and hit the shot like the last one, or worse, "perfector" than the last one. It doesn't exist anymore, it's in the past. Be in the moment of what you are doing, clear your mind, and swing again.
Once you get proficient at this, you will likely swing too far to the other side. Mushin Golf is like a pendulum and their needs to be a balance. You mustn't "care" about your swing or the results without getting "careless."
Caring is on the far left side of the pendulum and involves tension, ego, frustration and dissappointment. Carelessness happens when you "swing" to far to the right. Carelessness is when your mind is "too loose", not focused and concentrated, lackadaisical and sloppy.
As you continue practicing to find your balance point, you will experience different feelings on both sides of the pendulum that let you know you are getting closer. On the left side after some early success, you will be excited about clearing your mind because of the results, but frustrated that you are unable to do it every time.
This is still caring too much, trying to harness something that is unharnessable. On the right side, you will find your mind becoming more concentrated with fewer thoughts, but still be at a point where your mind is not locked in and tightly focused. Remember that you are clearing your mind so that your focus is effortless and on a different level of consciousness, not so that you can take a nap on the course.
Don't try and force it to be open, let it be open and never forget the fundamental of breath watching. When you find yourself putting pressure on yourself while hitting a shot or thinking about results, return your focus to your breathing which will immediately return your mind to the moment without you "trying" to stop thinking about your score or your swing.
It's important that you continue your trips to the "Mental Driving Range" as discussed in the first article. Then carry over your clear mind and relaxed body to the practice tee. From there, you are ready to take it to the course. Be diligent in clearing your mind on the practice tee first because it will be significantly more challenging on the course.
Mushin Golf Exercise
On your next trip to the Mental Driving Range, try this exercise to test your concentration level and periodically revisit this exercise to test your progress. While laying or sitting quietly, count backwards from 10 to 1 while thinking about nothing else.
As you are doing this, "see" each number in your mind and trace the outside of the number with your mind. See the number as clearly as possible as your mind intensely focuses on nothing but tracing the outer edge of the number you see in your mind. Do this for each number as you count down and see how far you can count without a single extraneous thought popping into your mind.
If on your first try you can get to 8, you've done pretty well. If you can get to 5 on your first try, you're doing incredibly well and must be visiting the Mental Driving Range often to have a mind that clear that can concentrate that well with no random thoughts popping up. If you can count past the number 5 on the first try, you're lying ;-) I have never had anyone do this exercise that could get past the number 5 without a random thought popping up in their mind, and now you won't be able to either because you'll be thinking about getting past the number 5 when you get there because you'll be thinking that no one else has done it and that's a thought! Gotcha!
It's sort of like telling someone not to think about a red monkey with a yellow mohawk and long shaggy hair. As you practice, you will be able to improve your concentration skills and your abilty to keep your mind in the present with laser like, effortless focus. It almost seems too childish for our sophisticated intellect to perform a task seemingly so menial.
It will want to "step in" and get involved, just as it does in the middle of your backswing or when you suddenly become aware that you're cruising along about to shoot your career low score and now all of a sudden you can't hit a shot and your palms are sweaty.
If you hadn't known, you would've kept coasting, but as soon as you became aware of your score, you were doomed. Practice clearing your mind and keeping it clear, first at home, then on the range and finally on the course and you will be well on your way to consistently playing golf at your potential.