Deepak Chopra runs a center for spiritual giddy-up in southern California. His forte is mind-body medicine and he includes golf as a means for contemplating the essential balance between the two. In his book Golf for Enlightenment: The Seven Lessons for the Game of Life, he presents the “parable” of Adam Everyman, a frustrated, hopeless golfer who achieves both superlative golfing skills and unique personal insight, thanks to Leela – a mysterious young blonde woman he meets in a shack one day after a particularly depressing round.
“Life is a game,” says Mr. Chopra,” and like golf, it is a game played in Eden.”
But if Life is a game, what kind of game is it, where everything plays against everything else with no perceivable outcome? A game where players come and go in relentless succession with no apparent change in the direction of play? With no idea of the rules, or the objective? A game that does not end?
A game by definition is a purposeful interaction between factions, – two people, two teams, two nations, whatever – to achieve a particular result within the context of agreed upon parameters. Everyone involved, including the spectators know what’s going on. And in order to achieve its purpose, it must at some point reach a conclusion. It must have an outcome. A game of golf with an infinite number of holes cannot possibly be a game, nor a cricket match with a never-ending succession of innings – certainly not for players who live and die in the process. If the game doesn’t end, what difference does the score make? Where’s the incentive? What’s the point?
How can a soccer player play better, if he has no idea where the goal is?
Suggesting that it’s the kind of game that we play as children, amounts to the same thing. Games that children play also have intent; each child knows what the game is about, what is part of the game, and what is not. They knowingly participate in an agreed upon event, and since they’re aware of the purpose, they know when they’re achieving it. Even if the outcome is not to produce winners and losers, each child knows whether the game was successful or not. This is in complete contradiction to Life.
Possibly he means the kind of game involving other life forms, a more insidious range of winner loser activities, including sport fishing, deer hunting, pheasant shooting etc. These are games of a sort, but they are rigged games, in that only one side knows what’s going on, and as such is the only side which finds pleasure in it: A ‘lesser’ life-form, is unwittingly enlisted in a game of wits, in which its ‘natural’ abilities are forced into contest against the ‘intellectual’ abilities of a ‘superior’ incomprehensible adversary. The ‘lesser’ life form has no concept of rules, methods, and purpose etc., but is clearly aware that failure to evade imposed circumstances will result in painful termination of sensibility. This certainly seems more analogous to the human condition – and it’s painfully obvious which side we are on.
Or it could be a game of chance, a gamble, a word that shares the same etymological root. In this form of game an individual or a group of individuals proposes a configuration of future events and places objects of value in support of their conviction. Such conviction is countered by opposing points of view that are also backed in the same way. The side that predicts the correct outcome acquires the objects of the opposition. The possibilities for this form of game are almost limitless since reality is always in flux. Everything is subject to outcome – the roll of a dice, the turn of a card, the spin of a wheel; the weather, the war, the weight of a baby. But if Life is a gamble, it’s not Life that’s making the wager, Life is the wager or simply the event that’s being wagered against. Either it’s the currency or the ball in the wheel, a mere cipher in the hands of an indifferent sensibility.
As with the other forms of game it fails as an analogy simply because Life in order to play, must know what it is playing for. Without that, it cannot know whether it’s winning or losing, and without that, it’s denied the one essential purpose of all games: the joy of knowing that it has played well. In its despair, it cannot even walk off the field, since the field is without boundaries.
Which brings us to Eden.
The coupling of Eden and innocence is invariably accepted without question, innocence being a state of existence, free from moral wrong. In its childhood as it were, without the guile and duplicity that characterizes its maturity. Eden we are told was a perfect place; it was harmony, well-being, bliss.
But if nothing went wrong in Eden, then nothing could go right there either. It would be bound by its perfection. There couldn’t even be a there because without a relativistic consciousness there would be no sense of here to compare it to. It wouldn’t be a place at all. It would be nowhere, nothing, oblivion. Not the innocence of childhood, but the moment before the child is conceived.
At what point in oblivion Mr. Chopra, do you propose we tee-off from?
By suggesting that golf can be played in Eden, Deepak Chopra simply evokes the same old, fairytale, never-never land from children’s books. A place invented in Genesis and epitomized by the Watchtower illustrations of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Implausible tableaus in which black-folks and white-folks (in clothes, that do somewhat resemble golf outfits) pose together amongst carnivores and herbivores alike, gazing out over backdrops of lush mountains and perfect sky. Images that prompt any thinking person over the age of five to ask, “And what happens when it gets dark?” When he describes the golf course as such a perfect garden, Chopra can only be referring to the photographs in the Club brochures, which like the illustrations of the Jehovah’s witnesses, advertise an idyllic freeze frame of unreality, well worth the price of admission.
Golf is above all a game of privilege, and in that sense the Biblical image of Eden is appropriate. It’s played by a small cross section of life in ideal surroundings often in stark contrast to what exists beyond them. Until recently, it has always been a white man’s game, like polo, or fox hunting or elephant safaris. It’s an appropriate irony that a young man named Tiger Woods emerged to redefine the idea. Cost alone makes it inaccessible to the majority of people. A typical golf course consumes the amount of water used by a town of thirty thousand people. It covers an average area of 150 plus acres. Maintenance costs are enormous. Membership fees reflect these parameters. It’s a game often associated with weekends, and as such, the slew of books equating the game with a form of spiritual communion presumably justifies hundreds of thousands of would be/ should be, church goers, into coming to peace with their abscondance.
Most significantly it is an insulated reality. The hoi poloi cannot intrude on its manicured perfection. Homeless people won’t stray here, they don’t even exist here. Chopra hints at this idea momentarily in his fable of Adam Everyman. While anticipating his next golf lesson, Adam refers to an image on television, of a war somewhere “far away” which he immediately switches off.
It’s in that sentence, that Mr. Chopra gives the game away.
Golf like most games, is a device for switching off reality, both for players and audience alike. It narrows our focus down to a small white ball. And we do this because Life is not a game. It’s a relentless onslaught where only a few are able to avoid suffering. Golf isn’t played by the people of Rwanda or Palestine or Iraq, it’s played by the kind of people who help create such worlds.
Are these the people the parable of Adam Everyman and Leela appeals to? A male whack-off/tee-off fantasy, about a fabulous blonde girl hooker/slicer who lures a middle-aged man into a lonely shack in the middle of nowhere? A pretty girl in shorts and a pony tail patiently kneading his corrosive doubts into conviction; improving his strokes, adjusting his woods, coaxing his balls toward the hole. “Not rimming it, but driving to its center.” Oi! Is this the fantasy that appeals to the privileged? The movers and shakers?
The ex-president of the United States and his father are golfers, and when asked what he and his father talk about when they’re not talking politics, George W. replied:
Not the existential nature of the game?
Please. They’re out there to get away from the wife and kids, probably get drunk and while they’re at it, decide which unwitting sons of bitches they’re going to drop a bomb on.
Mr. Chopra does not advocate such ideas of course. His solution to the Iraq situation in 2003 was that the country should be disarmed without force. He gave no indication of how this would be achieved but suggested that a Disneyland theme park might help, along with free access to MTV, Nickelodeon and CNN. Maybe a couple of golf courses wouldn’t hurt either.
And so it goes…
Having paid the exorbitant fee, the golfer steps to the green. He tees his first shot and the moment the club hits the ball the game begins. The dice are rolled: the ‘PAIR O’ DICE – Adam and Eve. In that moment, the notion of Eden disappears. Game cannot be played there, game is what destroys it. Game is duality, male and female, good and evil, life and death. It’s winners and losers, and inevitably, it is suffering. The moment the ball begins to move, the stuff of life sets in: apprehension, doubt, envy, fear, and failure. We are forced to decide, forced to define ourselves, with no sense of purpose or outcome or reason.
While beyond the fairway, in the roughs of all eternity, a billion hapless souls murder and consume one another forever.
If we must resort to the same, old, tired, Bible metaphors…
The game of golf is not played in Eden Mr. Chopra…like life…it is played in Hell.
Malcolm Mc Neill’s first project out of art school was a seven-year collaboration with writer William S. Burroughs. His two books about the experience were published at the end of 2012.
His most recent exhibition of paintings was in August 2013 in New York.