The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey in 5 minutes

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“What is the real game?
It is a game in which the heart is entertained,
The game in which you are entertained.
What is the game you will win.”
- Maharaji

A brief explanation of a game and the simplified external requirements of a tennis player

Every game involves at least one player, a goal, some obstacle between the player and his goal, field (physical or mental) on which the game is played in the motive for playing.

The tennis player has only two requirements for success: hit each ball over the net and into the court. The sole aim of each stroke is to fulfill these two requirements with consistency and enough pace and accuracy to provide maximum difficulty for the opponent.

Every game is composed of two parts, an outer game and an inner game.

The outer game is played against an external opponent to overcome external obstacles, and to reach an external goal. The inner game is played to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance.

Neither mastery nor satisfaction can be found in the playing of any game without giving some attention to the relatively neglected skills of the inner game that takes place in the mind of the player, against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self condemnation.

Most players are talking to themselves on the court all the time.

But who is talking to who? I’m talking to myself, say most people. For clarity, let’s call the teller self 1 and the doer self 2. The key to better tennis lies in improving the relationship between the conscious teller, self 1, and the natural capabilities of self 2.

The first skill to learn is the art of letting go the human inclination to judge ourselves and our performance as either good or bad. Stop sitting in judgement over self 2 and its actions, and appreciate the processes by which it works.

Brush aside for a moment any opinion you have about your body and think about what it does.

As you read these very words your body is performing a remarkable piece of coordination. Eyes are moving effortlessly, taking in images of black and white which are automatically compared with memories of similar markings, translated into symbols, then connected with other symbols to form an impression of meaning. Thousands of these operations are taking place every few seconds.

The process by which the body learned and performs these actions is no different from the process by which it learns and plays the game of tennis.

Fighting the mind does not work. What works best is learning to focus it.

Relaxed concentration is the supreme art because no art can be achieved without it, while with it, much can be achieved. One cannot reach the limit of one’s potential in any endeavour without learning it; what is even more compelling is that tennis can be a marvellous medium through which skill in focus of mind can be developed.

By learning to focus while playing tennis, one can develop a skill that can heighten performance in every other aspect of life. To learn this art, practice is needed. And there is never a time or situation that you cannot practice, except perhaps sleep.

Redefining competition.

Instead of being concerned with how good you are in relation to your opponent, be absorbed solely in achieving excellence for its own sake.

Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but reaching the goal itself may not be as valuable as the experience that can come in making a supreme effort to overcome the obstacles involved.

It is the moment by moment effort to let go and to stay centred in the hear and now action which offers the real winning and losing, and this game never ends.

Clearly, almost every human activity involves both the outer and inner games.

There are always external obstacles between us and our external goals, whether we are seeking wealth, education, reputation, friendship, peace on earth or simply something to eat for dinner. In the end our obstacles are always there; the very mind we use in obtaining our external goals is easily distracted by its tendency to worry, regret or generally model the situation, thereby causing difficulties from within.

The cause of my stress can be summed up one word: attachment.

Freedom from stress does not necessarily involve giving up anything, but rather being able to let go of anything, when necessary, and knowing that one will still be all right.

Each self is endowed by birth, regardless of where the birthplace, with an instinct to fulfil its nature. It wants to enjoy, to learn, to understand, appreciate, go for it, rest, be healthy, survive, be free to be what it is, express itself and make it unique contribution.

Freedom from stress happens in proportion to our responsiveness to our true selves, allowing every moment possible to be an opportunity for self to be what it is and enjoy the process. As far as I can see, this is a lifelong learning process.

The message of the inner game is simple: focus on the present moment, the only one you can really live in.

Its at the heart of this book and at the heart of the art of doing anything well. Focus means keeping in mind the hear and now. It is perplexing to wonder why we ever leave that hear and now. Most of our suffering takes place when we allow our minds to imagine the future or dwell over the past. Hear and now is the only time and place when one ever enjoyed himself or accomplishes anything.

Abandon is a good word to describe what happens to a tennis player who focuses only on the present moment. He stops caring about the upcoming playsIt is the letting go of the concerns of one self and letting in of the natural concerns of a deeper and truer self. It is caring, but without caring; it is effort, but effortless at the same time.


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