I have recently taken up tennis to stay fit and try something new. It's not easy to be a beginner when you're in your early forties; you have preconceived ideas about how things should be based on experience and perceptions. During my first few lessons I literally attacked the ball. I had Wimbledon on my mind, Maria Sharapova, the Williams sisters; I felt like I had to be larger than life, hit the ball hard, slam a serve into the box. But I had it all wrong; I had no poise. I went at that ball like I go at my life sometimes, afraid and driven by adrenaline to overcome my fears of not getting it right. You don't make for a good tennis player when you are a Tasmanian devil whirring across the court.
What I have learned to seek is poise. Equanimity. Self-possession. I seek to possess myself and not be possessed
by fear or anger or stress or angst. Perhaps if I find poise in
tennis, I can find it in other areas of my life as well. But what is
poise exactly; what are its components? Sure poise stems from ability,
and ability implies confidence and experience, but also some luck, as
well. It takes time to develop poise; it takes conviction and patience
and perseverance. It's a practice, just as meditation is a practice.
In meditation, you learn to sit through things and breathe. You learn
that the things that possess you have a time limit. You learn
patience. You learn to see the subtle progressions that imply change
coming. So you stick with it, in hopes that change materializes.
have started to see those subtle improvements and I've started to
believe that you really can teach an old dog new tricks, that the mind
has a certain plasticity, an ability to stretch beyond its usual states
There's substantial evidence of this plasticity or neuroplasticity,
as it is called, in the individuals who have suffered traumas and
injuries to the brain. In these extreme cases, brains have recreated
neural pathways to rebuild lives. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, the
neuroanatomist who had a blood clot the size of a golf ball in the left
hemisphere of her brain was "just an infant in a woman's body"; she
couldn't talk, walk, read, write. It took her eight years to regain her
functioning after experts deemed it impossible; her TED talk has become
an internet sensation for its hopefulness in documenting the expanse of
the human mind.
So if a brain can rebuild a life, just imagine what it can do for your serve.
are other neuroscientists jumping on the band wagon. Richard Davidson,
a neuroscientist who studies the brains of meditating monks exclaims
that "change is really the rule rather than the exception"and it is up
to us to choose the influences that will rewire our consciousness. In
the meditating monks, Davidson measured brain rhythms as indicated by
gamma oscillations; the more gamma oscillations, the better the clarity
of perception. This allows for "a richer, more encompassing sense of
what it is to be human."
Davidson emphasizes that the key to changing the brain is practice.
Marie Pasinski, Harvard neurologist and author of Beautiful Brain, Beautiful You says it best:
Regardless of age, your brain has the ability to make new neurons and
construct new neural pathways throughout your life. When you engage in
new experiences or think in novel ways, new pathways are forged. Every
time you think a specific thought, a specific pathway of neurons fires
up, neurotransmitters are released and synapses are subtly altered. With
repetition this pathway is strengthened.
overstimulated society, it only seems natural that an antidote present
itself. Even famous role models out there are doing it - turning
inward, searching for poise using meditation and the like. In the
trailers for the new season of Sesame Street, Cookie Monster is studying
the martial arts, discovering that "a little self control can go a long
Well, if a blue furry puppet can find poise, then surely it is attainable.