RtO: Konomama

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Each week, author and poet Y.S. Fing looks at the state of baseball, the movements of the game, the ebb and flow and soul of America’s pastime in Roaming the Outfield. This week: “Konomama”

In the last entry, The Inculcation of Wisdom and Virtue, I wrote, “… the game requires that the player shed the dreamy, flighty child within them, focus on the task at hand, and separate themselves from any expectation and emotion.” And I knew when I wrote it, that it would require further delving into. First, ‘shed the … child within …’ The child is the one who has no self-control, whose mind flows without any temperance or restraint. All mature people know that, ideally, this Freudian ‘id’ should not rule the individual.

Second ‘separate themselves from any … emotion.’ This is a much more intricate concept than simply ‘shedding the child within.’ To be separate from any emotion at any given time is extremely difficult and very few people ever even conceive of such a thing, let alone attempt it. Interestingly, much of modern pop-culture is formulated around indulging the child within and playing up every emotion one feels. Even baseball, in its way.

So I’m not naive when I introduce these ideas. They are dense and inextricable. But the true epicenter of the clause above is, ‘focus on the task at hand…’ Here, between thought and expression, we have what T.S. Eliot called ‘the shadow,‘ and Lou Reed called ‘a lifetime.’ This eternal moment, when the pitcher has let go of the ball, but the batter has yet to swing, is the ‘task at hand.’ I can think of no better philosophy to examine ‘the task at hand’ than Zen.

Daisetz T. Suzuki,

Daisetz T. Suzuki

In Zen and Japanese Culture, by Daisetz T. Suzuki, we learn some basic definitions: “Satori [enlightenment] finds a meaning hitherto hidden in our daily … experiences…” “The meaning … revealed … is being itself, is becoming itself, is living itself.” The Japanese term is ‘konomama,’ meaning ‘this-instant’ or ‘is-ness.’ To restate that, enlightenment comes in discovering meaning in the simple actuality of things (the konomama), like holding hands, or dinner with the family, or a small town parade, or trying to hit a pitch. If a person discovers the hidden profundity in all such passing moments, that person can be separate from the emotional fluctuations which accompany each passing moment. And then they can be ‘in the moment’ without feeling the pressure of the moment.

Composure, cool, whatever we call it, it comes because we work hard to attain discipline, to be accomplished at something we love, and facility arrives, in time, as a natural course of events. One doesn’t get to be a good writer by watching tv! Like me, you must keep cranking away no matter what anybody (even your wife, ahem), says. Writing can be an excrescence, like hair growing, or other bodily functions we needn’t explicate, something organic that happens in the motion of time.

Baseball players know organically, from when they are little children, that they want to be in the big game. They have big game stories of glory and/or bitterness. They dream about being at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, two outs, two strikes, bases loaded. It’s a cliche, because, like public speaking, there’s nobody else to rely on but yourself, nobody else to be ‘in the moment,’ nobody else to answer for the result. The agitation we feel when the spotlight is on us is the ‘child within’ which needs to be ‘shed.’ And to forget about what it would mean to make the hit with bases loaded, two out, bottom of the ninth, and then actually make the hit, is the ‘separating … from any … emotion.’

How can a person do these things? How can anybody temper themselves and forget their surroundings and ‘focus on the task at hand’? Again, Suzuki, “When the mind, now abiding in its is-ness [konomama]… free from intellectual complexities and moralistic attachments … surveys the world, it discovers all sorts of values hitherto hidden …”

It takes time and diligent practice. Even then the discoveries are nebulous. Words don’t do justice to the complex understandings available to the konomama, ‘in-the-moment,’ mind. But a Washington National exemplifies konomama awareness, in these unpleasant team sub-.500 days, both as a hitter and defender, is Adam LaRoche.

Adam has learned plate and defensive discipline after years of dedication and practice at the ballpark. But he also practices the same craft when he’s out hunting. The physical, emotional and intellectual demands on a hunter are intense. One must get oneself in a position for a sure one-shot kill. That generally means being willing to hike all over creation, and may mean laying in one place in the snow for several hours, repeated over the course of several days. It means, when you have the chance to kill that animal, you feel that moment powerfully.

Adam LaRoche

The National’s ‘Adam LaRoche (AP)

But it is precisely that feeling which needs to be relinquished and which Buddhist meditation generally, and Zen study and practice specifically, can assist with, especially for those who are unable to go out and hunt. We all have those moments in our lives, when we need to be on our toes, when desire and expectation give a moment greater meaning. It may be a confrontation with a loved one or an employer. It may be simply that we need to over-come our self-consciousness. This study and practice offers a way, a discipline, to let go of expectation and desire.

We do that by separating ourselves from ourselves and living that konomama as fully as we can. We need to recognize it and max out. Adam LaRoche has something to teach the younger Nationals these days. It’s right for him to be in that position and, even though the team is underperforming, I need to acknowledge the influence of Mike Rizzo, General Manager of the 2013 Washington Nationals, on the clubhouse and the culture of the team. If this team doesn’t win it all this year. There will be other elusive and difficult konomama, which these young men are learning to master. I look forward to seeing it all work out in the motion of time.

Y.S Fing loves baseball the way that his parents wish he loved Catholicism.

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  1. By Roaming the Outfield: Ultimate Reality on June 26, 2013 at 10:42 am

    […] the Outfield. This week: “Ultimate Reality”   To delve a little more deeply into konomama, which is a Zen concept, let’s look to the source from which this Japanese idea developed, […]