Witness The Ball
by Taylor Spalding
Witnessing the ball is at the heart of the Spalding Method. It is also the most elusive concept of the method. It cannot be called upon like the definition for a style of grip or stance. This action is more than the act of seeing. It is more than just looking and observing. It is not much more than an experience alone. Once it is experienced, however, there is no doubt about the reality of the event.
No object can be attended to purely until it is detached wholly from all other objects. Golf and golf instruction for the most part suffers from an indulgence of objects. These objects exist not only in the form of the golfer's hopeful attainment of the proper positions of the body through time, but of the hopeful fantasy of being able to identify what these positions are. So objects in golf consist of both physical objects and mental objects. It's a crowded field.
The only physical object that this method will deal with is the ball. It is the only pure object that the golfer must cope with in swing. All others and their perceived importance arise from the golfer's distraction away from that one pure object. Some will flail away with arguments such as, "What about the flagstick, the nature of the ball's lie, attention to alignment, the grip, etc., etc." That is all fine. Yes these are necessary...but not in swing. Only the ball is necessary here. For if the ball is to be purely struck it must be seen unsullied through time. It must be witnessed, not just acknowledged, labeled and checked off on a list of "do's."
As we dissolve the great illusion (See Article 3, "The Greatest Illusion in Golf") the image of the ball may move into the actual. When we view the ball with trust, the experience deepens and the art may set in. We hear the invocation, ...and keep your eye on the ball. So simple it seems doesnt it? Here the term Witnessing emerges as the most precise description of the proper action. We could easily say, view the ball, or see the ball, or watch the ball. But these terms are not sufficient. For example, when we watch a movie, the action of the one watching is implied as much as the drama itself. We become involved in the plot, the subplots, the melodrama and the connection it may have in the reality of our own lives. We are connected to the hero and the villain, and so on. So too, when we just watch the ball, we imply the responsibility of the watcher and his ability to prognosticate the future action of the object known as "ball." The term witnessing emphasizes the event and not the observer of that event. Witnessing conveys the rarity of the event. A plane may crash and the whole country sees the wreckage on the evening news. Yet there are only a few witnesses to help clear up the speculations on what may have gone wrong. Witnessing is the pure observation of the actual, the view of events in which there is no vested interest by the observer. In this sense, witnessing is aesthetic. It requires a disinterest that is not apathetic.
Therefore the outcome of merely watching is what I call Vested Vision. The outcome of Witnessing is Persistent Vision. With vested vision there is the connotation of perception and the eventuality of self interest; persistent vision is sensation alone. Many have heard of persistent vision in relation to the cinema. Its what allows us to perceive motion through the rapid fire display of still images on the movie screen. It is really a biological function of the eye. When an image is cast upon the retinal plane the cones and rods of the retina are fired. When an image is burned in, it will persist for a moment while the rods and cones rebound for more input. If you have ever had a flash picture taken, you can relate to this. The dot of the flash source will be retained until the cones and rods recover from their excitation.
When we are at the theater, watching a movie, all that we are taking in is being cast upon the inner screen of the mind. This is our subjective view; we find a connection to the total event and play out its meaning on this inner screen. This is the vested vision. Witnessing, on the other hand, is simply the detached observation of an event. We are simply and purely viewing that series of still images rolling past on the actual movie screen before us.
This presence of vested vision is not an illusion but a self deception. We create the illusion described in Article Three to arrive here. As Timothy Gallwey says, "thinking hinders the seeing process." Always keep in mind that golf is a time problem, nothing more. Let us observe what is truly happening in the mind during thought in relation to the act of swing. The mind conjures up an image of what the state of swing might be; it enters into vested vision. This image can never completely form before the mind calls upon itself to change the image again. We could call this a blinking of the mind. It is rooted in a doubt evoked by the innocent question, "What shall I be attending to now?" Rarely can the blinking mind recall what it was thinking during the moment of the doubtful swing. It can only recall that it was thinking. Because of golf's time problem, whatever this blurred image may contain, it is formless. The great French philosopher Henri Bergson points out that the more we dwell upon a remembered sensation the more actual it becomes. This does not serve a golfer well. As we noted in Article Three, the pure golf swing is free from all sensation outside of the ball. How are we to gain proper swing if we must remember a period of no sensation whatsoever? This is how we trick ourselves. The mind in search of sensation will always find it in the form of a "desultory search for some object." The important thing to know is that the image we call up is cast upon the inner screen of the mind acts as a veil, blocking the clear and distinct view of the ball. These are the veils that Shivas Irons refers to in Golf In The Kingdom.
What prevents these veils from breaking away, however, is the true mystery of golf and perhaps the true mystery of life. While the social, economical and political panoplies surrounding the game are too broad and complex to be investigated in this body of work, a simple demonstration may sufficiently draw one's attention to how energy is wasted by attending to any of the infinite possible objects outside of the ball. There is an exercise we may do to test whether or not we are seeing the ball pristinely. When it is practiced and perfected and taken to the course some amazing things begin to happen. This exercise takes advantage of the inevitable persistent vision. Remember, persistent vision is the image of our view remaining active on the retina for an instant after the object is removed from sight.
Take a nice new white ball and drop it on the carpet about three feet from a wall(preferably white). A dark carpet also works well with this exercise. This exercise is done without a club and can be done just about anywhere.
If we are truly seeing the ball throughout the whole movement, a "fried egg" of persistent image will be cast on the wall for just about one second. However, if we overlay the sensation of the ball with internal swing images, the persistent image must be searched for and will disappear before we can locate it. It is really a very simple exercise that can be practiced in the home or office. We dont need to hit ball after ball at the driving range. We can practice in the mind just as easily and more effectively. We will employ this technique extensively in Pathways and Pigeonholes: A Short Game Technique.
This is where the "keep your head down" notion can be destroyed. Its so easy to keep the head down and yet forget that the eyeballs do roll in their sockets and can focus on an object regardless of head movement. It is almost as if we say to the ball, "Hello ball; Good-bye ball; I'll be back in about one second. I'm going off to think about my swing. But at least my head is still. This type of thinking is delusional. As long as the image of the ball maintains its spot on the retinal plane and the mind is not attending to thoughts and images of swing, the ball will appear pristine. The head may turn freely within the scope of the eye's range of movement. In fact, if the head does not respond to spin by turning slightly, it cannot be included in the dynamic system of swing. Think of it this way. Let us imagine we are in a space capsule observing Earth. Suddenly Alaska stops turning while the rest of the globe keeps spinning. Could we say it wouldn't really matter much since Alaska is so close to the North Pole? After all, it does travel less distance in space relative to say, Hawaii. But such an event as this would cause chaos in the whole dynamic system of the spinning mass we call Earth. Just because the perimeter of head is more closely clustered around the vertical axis running through the center, it does not mean that it is center. It does not mean that it is motionless. But in our conception of the nature of movement we cast the movement upon the backdrop of the body and lose the essence of it. The observer can never mitigate itself. It can only dissolve through attentiveness.
We could discuss Witnessing at great length. But no description can reveal what can only be experienced. It can only emerge when we find center. I do not mean only the physical center as we address the ball, I mean emotional, mental, and spiritual center as well. As expressed in, "Waking to the Orbit of Swing," all the points in orbit, as they reach and cross over the fractal boundary between waning and welting, must move toward the center if there is to be pure swing. Through the process of Waking and Washing we cultivate a constant Witnessing to all that is life. Witnessing reaches far beyond the golfing experience. Golf is just one of the many forums in which there is a tendency for self-delusion to play itself out. It is also a parable for the necessity of constant waking and re-awakening in other aspects of life. The experience of Witnessing is impossible to overlook. Once it happens, we understand the Spalding Method instantly! It is a method that knows it must destroy itself though the whim of action. No one can direct you on the specific steps to be taken to find out what Witnessing is. The key is to practice the Witnessing exercise during your practice sessions and especially during actual matches. It's benefits are most profoundly experienced in the short game, where the ball is moving away from the golfer at a pace much slower than it is in the long game. Cultivating the pure view of the ball through time and despite all indeterminable aspects of form is the greatest ideal in swing.
Copyright©1996, Golden Barefoot Golf
Copyright © 1993-2009, Golden Barefoot Golf