It had been years since I had played pool and I was more accustomed to smaller bar tables, playing for beers or for the right to merely stay on the table as quarters queued up on the table’s edge and challengers fell to the wayside. The larger billiard size tables were a challenge for me, and combined with my rusty moves, it was enough to give my current challenger, a beginner, a decent shot at victory. As it went, my grandson and I both had a number of sweet shots, amidst a multitude of not-so-sweet shots.
A question kept arising for me – What made the difference? Why were some shots, even strings of shots, like poetry in motion while others were downright clunky? Was it a matter of stance or viewing position? Was it the way I held the cue-stick or the follow-through I engaged after each shot? An off-balance-state of any one of these physical components would sink my effort, but would not sink the targeted ball.
I knew, however, that there was a critical mental component as well. Getting a bead on the cue-ball and the target ball was essential to finding the alignment. Then the cue-stick needs be added into the equation, forming a physical triad apart from body and mind. The mind-body connection, which is essential for any success, would map onto this simple triad (stick-ball-ball) which could be so slippery and precision eluding to begin with.
I asked myself about another mind-body link, “Is the level of energy I hold enough to allow me to maintain a focused attention?” I searched.
Something was still missing. I could feel it, sense it, and almost touch it. I noticed a bit of an ache, no unlike hunger, within my rib-cage, the area filled with both excitement and emptiness at the same time. It didn’t feel bad. It didn’t feel good. It felt a bit on edge on the one hand, and poised on the other – similar positions on the blade’s edge, infused with quite distinct sensations and feelings. Each contributed differently to a precision shot.
Suddenly, something came to me. I recalled a conversation I had with a teacher of mine about the purpose of emotions. Why do we have emotions? Is it so that we make good parents – so we love and protect our babies – or is this something that occurs well enough through our instincts? Do emotions exist so that we personally can feel good and experience pleasure? Do they exist to aide us in developing our moral-compass? Perhaps it’s all of these reasons, yet one other possibility always stood out to me. Emotions are what help us to connect to others. Emotions provide the link that mind and body cannot. Yes, physical and mental connections can be strong and beautiful. Yet, something richer is added when emotions enter the picture – color/warmth/depth (or their opposites), empathy/humility/love, and indescribably more.
What we have here is a new triad – of mind, body, and heart coexisting, overlapping, inter-engaging, and forming hues, shades, and textures. It is as though we have three bodies living together – a physical body, intellectual body, and an emotional body – all sharing the same space – us sharing me – together creating far more than each of the separate parts could add up to. Imagine what it would be like to lose (or not use) one of these parts – but how could we even begin to imagine this? Without heart or mind we would be an entirely different animal. And without a physical body – well, that would be a change!
So is the missing ingredient of the mind-body connection the emotional component? Is this what will contribute to the sweetness of the shot on the pool table? I don’t know, but I do believe that an emotional connection can help create a link to help hold all of the parts together. Emotions bathe all of the parts of the action in something intangible yet experiential. It can be felt. It can effect.
(Warning regarding emotions: All emotions are not created equal – What I speak of above is the general realm of emotion, the presence of emotion – not specific emotions that guide us, pull us, or bully us. Working with the influence that strong emotions have over us, such as our basic likes and dislikes, can produce significant beneficial growth for us – but this will be fodder for a later discussion.)
As a classroom teacher I am often aware of the need for a third force of some kind to enter into an equation, be it a mathematical equation (adding 1/2 +1/3 the third force needing to enter is a common denominator or LCD) or a human equation (I step in between two sparring students). I constantly am on the lookout for for ways to bring in old or new information for students, or to facilitate movement and shake up a scene by having them come write a math problem on the white-board (getting them moving, out of their seats, and in the spotlight of a clear view by class-mates) or to work together in small groups (re-shaping the solo mode, the format for most schooling), to bring in some new influence. A well-placed video can also help, or finding an appropriate way for them to use their cell-phones in class like competing in a teacher-generated game of Kahoot (displayed on the big screen in class – It is impressive how quickly they are willing to leap into serious effort with polynomials or exponents, no matter their general like or dislike of the topic. Check out Kahoot!) I watch for a missing link, a hidden piece of information or a slight shift in perspective, that can bridge the gap that blocks a student’s progress. This could be a physical shift as described above, or a shift of a different sort, such as a change in my voice or inner stance, bringing a new flavor or perspective to a discussion. When I intentionally lighten-up my attitude, for example, I create opening in my heart and the classroom atmosphere changes. It is up to me as teacher to engage in third-force efforts to help break through the student/not-understanding impasse.
It is a natural state for two things to be opposed or to be locked in a binary relationship. One common name for this is dualism. We see it in yes/no, yin/yang, and up/down. Can there be a stick with only one end, or an outside without an inside? Often two entities are held together in stasis, without the ability to move or to change (a student not making the connection between action and consequence or two individuals butting heads). Then something else is needed – a third-force. Only by something entering from the outside can events move forward, or to change at all. In fact, if one were to look closely, she might see that no form of action takes place without some sort of third force entering the picture. As with duality, the triad is a natural occurrence, a natural law. (Before I begin to dive more deeply into triads such as a 3-legged stool, the triangle as used by Buckminster Fuller, or the Holy Trinity, or to look at the stability of three compared to the mobility of three -as with third-force, I set this all aside and promise to return to the topic at a later date.)
Now back to the classroom: There are times when I might engage in a difficult interaction with a student myself and we seem to reach an impasse. Something else is needed. This third force can come from another person such as a student or staff member, or it can come from somewhere inside of me – only IF I have done enough intentional preparation in order to be able to locate an objective, unbiased perspective in myself, along with the ability to execute accurately that clarity of perspective – neither a quick nor easy undertaking. This is a vast area for teachers to explore and in which to grow – for a life-time – one of the finest arenas for life-long learning. And as always, lofty ideals must be backed-up by practical applications, if true progress is to be found.
A few cautions to the teacher about calling in support:
1 If calling another student in as a third perspective, be aware of the possibility of biassed loyalty to one individual or another (thus loss of objectivity), or the reluctance to cast what might be considered blame toward a peer or a teacher. This could also put the helpful student in an awkward position with his peers.
2 If calling in another teacher or administrator beware of creating embarrassment, expanding the apparent magnitude of the issue at hand, or alienating the student. Also, the issue at hand might be better left under the radar, since alerting any administrator, to any degree, could lead to consequences that are locked into place, beyond the power of any party involved, such as with zero-tolerance. Know the parameters of the engagement.
3 If calling upon myself to act as a third position/perspective it is easy to believe that I am being objective and unbiased when actually I am still seeing only through my usual biased eyes (Is it true that only with objectivity can we recognize our objectivity?). This is a difficult task, but not at all impossible – at least to the level at which we have practiced, and the willingness we have to let go of the many likes and dislikes, and habitual perspectives we have developed over a life-time. Without this willingness, true willingness, there is no place to begin.
As my grandson Asher and I were playing our last game of 8-ball, I managed to lose more than once in a single game. Hmm? Early in the match I sunk the 8-ball by accident before its due and technically lost the game. However, we put the ball back on the table and continued playing. Later, when only the 8-ball was left for me to sink, I could not get at it with the cue ball, couldn’t touch it without hitting an opponent ball first. This is considered a scratch and I lost a second time. After that I had another chance at sinking the 8-ball and scoring a win. It was a difficult shot, and one that would be very easy to scratch on – to directly sink the cue-ball or for it to follow in the 8. Perhaps I could lose three times in one game – impressive! I sent the cue from one end of the long billiard table all the way to the other end, striking the bank and then traveling all the way back down to the original end of the table where the black 8 sat. We both watched silently for a long moment. The white cue-ball kissed the black eight, sending it into the pocket – No scratch! – a very sweet shot. I evaded a triple bogey.
I will continue to explore what makes the difference in how I shoot. I still had a feeling that I could almost touch the difference in the mental-emotional-physical state I was in when it all came together, when I had what the game calls, control. Yet oddly, it somehow felt better when I let go of trying to control all of the factors and instead turned attention to the whole picture, the gestalt, with more of a sense of allowing rather than controlling. What was I embodying at that moment? Whatever it was it felt more closely linked to a couple of other words used to describe a successful run on a pool table – groove or flow.
The next time I will invite my grandson into the conversation. At eleven years he will certainly be able to explore what contributes to the perfect shots that he makes. And how much sweeter the game can be when sharing this kind of inquiry.