Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wanters vs. Needers

Speaking of tennis (as I so often am), I might have a lot to say on that subject for a while.

There’s a lot of silliness that goes on in both my Monday and Friday tennis clinics. Gina and I are both in both clinics. On Mondays we are the unruly ones. On Fridays, we take a back seat to the antics of others. We didn’t plan it that way…it’s just the chemistry of the groups.

The point is, we play a lot of tennis together. We know each other’s game, and more or less what to expect of the other. What we don’t always know is how the game is going to play out – not just in points, but in metaphor.

As I learn the game of tennis, I see it more and more as a little microcosm of life. There is a real and reliable Tennis Karma that makes itself readily apparent when someone makes a bad call. There is a direct and palpable relationship between your ability to pay attention Here and Now and your ability to execute your shots. The virtues of patience, the backlash of greed – it all comes out so profoundly it’s almost biblical.

When a tennis game goes to a tie at match point, the game must be continued until one or the other team wins by two. So at that score of 40-40, or Deuce, you have two serves to go: one that gives either team the advantage of winning, and the next that either secures the win, or sends you back to Deuce.

During one such game, Gina blithely referred to us (the serving team) as either “wanters” or “needers.” From the first position, you Want to win the point – it will give you the opportunity to win the game. From the second position, you Need the point – either to win, or (if you lost the last point) to stay alive. Gina and I play completely different games if we’re Needers vs. if we’re Wanters. As Wanters, we play competently, but nice. There is no fire in our bellies. Perhaps we’re not used to getting what we want.

But once the game turns, and we’re about to lose – once it becomes clear that we Need this point in order to save face, we become completely different players. We’re like machines, finding the holes, putting it away.

This doesn’t win us the game. It just puts us back in the Tie position again. The position where we again are Wanters. It is there that we go through our same psychological detritus. And then we’re Needers again.

I can’t remember if we won that particular game. I think we did. But more important – far more important – was the gift of seeing that pattern. The ambivalence of Want. The desperation of Need. How you can go on and on and on in that holding pattern for what may seem like an eternity. Until you change your point of view.

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