Without a moment’s warning, he threw the ball forcefully toward me. For a man in his late 70s, he had the pitching power of a 20 year old. I missed completely. The ball sailed off behind my head. I went scurrying after it. After a search of a minute or two, I brought it dutifully back. His face was expressionless as he took the ball.
“Focus,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”
The next pitches were easier. I was ready now. As he threw each ball with great force, I managed to hit almost all of them. Some he caught. Others, I had to run and find.
“Okay,” he said after a while. “You’re ready for the next level.”
He pulled a red bandanna out of his hip pocket. He folded it down into a narrow strip and tied it around my eyes. His touch was rough. He caught my hair in his knot; when I made a sound he ignored it, breathing hard.
“We’re going to do the same thing now, but blindfolded.”
There was clearly no opportunity for discussion here. I stood holding the bat. I could feel the rings on its handle, designed for fingers to grip. I could feel the slightly wet earth beneath my feet, the heightened tension in my chest. The rush came suddenly. I felt my arms move quickly; a split second later came the thought to do something, after it was over. There was a crack as the bat hit the ball. I heard Joey’s voice.
“Stay there,” he said. “I’ll get it.”
I could hear the crunching of his feet. My whole body was electric. Thought completely suspended. I had just hit a ball square on without using my eyes. I heard the sounds of Joey’s return. Then another ball. The whole thing happened so quickly. If I break it down, it sounds like a sequence of events. But it was all happening at the same time. The sound of the ball in flight. A thought, perhaps a clenching of fear, the ball might hit me. Instead of swinging the bat, I raised my arm to defend myself. The ball struck my elbow. Excruciating pain. My body crumpled. I dropped the bat. I lay on the ground, gripping the pain in my arm. Joey walked toward me. His voice was cold, crisp, militaristic.
“You have to focus. You have to focus. Stand up.”
I did. “Joey, that really hurt.”
“We can call this off right now,” said Joey. “You can beat it out of here this afternoon. But if you’re serious, you need to go all the way.”
“I’ll go on,” I said, my arm throbbing. It would be severely bruised.
“You can’t think,” he said, cutting his words crisp and short. “You can’t think. There’s no room here for thought. You must focus. You must focus so clearly on this moment that nothing else exists. If you let yourself follow thought for even a second, the ball could be in your face.”
My body convulsed. I felt sick and shocked and very cold.
“Focus,” he said. “Focus so that the past and future die. Focus so that only this moment remains.”
He placed the bat back in my hands. He walked away. My body was gripped with fear and excitement. I didn’t know which was which. Then, somehow, the magic began. Ball after ball: whiz, the crack of bat meeting a hard ball. With every ball, I relaxed even more. I was pure thrill. Something, not me, would hit the ball. My chest was on fire. I was laughing, yelling sounds that echoed off the walls of the valley. I felt huge, filled with light, bursting. Finally, it stopped. He walked over, untied the bandanna and looked into my eyes.
“This is pure response,” said Joey, “With no thought. This is how you will learn to live your life. No past, no future, no understanding. Action without thought. Learn to act before you think.”
I grinned at him. “Thank God it’s over,” I said. “I was afraid I would be killed.”
“It’s not over,” he said, “And you may be killed. That was just rehearsal.”
Excerpt from Arjuna’s new novel, The Last Laugh. Buy your copy here
photo credit: http://www.tvall.org/, http://www.parature.com/firstcontactresolution/, http://www.pinterest.com/christalubbe24/black-and-white-with-color/, http://justthis.austinzencenter.org/2010/05/seal-mummy-haiku-isshin-glen-snyder.html