I’ve been reading a lot of stoic philosophy lately (Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca). In particular, Ryan Holliday’s book The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, has been outstanding. If you have ever wanted to read philosophy, this is a great place to start. Usually philosophy is written by some snooty person trying to show how smart they are. They are also normally pondering aspects of life that have zero meaning in the every day lives of normal folks like you and I.
Stoicism is different. It is extremely readable, practical, and is applicable to our every day existence. It also has applications in disc golf! One of it’s central tenets applies directly to our time on the course:
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
Think about that for a moment. In disc golf, as in life, there will be moments of pain. They are unavoidable. You will have spit through putts. You will get an unfortunate kick deep into the woods. You will have to play a tournament round in an unbearably insect infested park. It is just a matter of time before something happens mid round that makes you want to hurl expletives into the universe with surprising speed and volume. Pain is inevitable.
Suffering is not. Suffering is the misery we cause ourselves when we react to pain. Suffering is always self inflicted. Suffering is our own internal choice in how we deal with the pain that life has dealt us. Suffering, unlike pain, is up to you.
When that perfect, center chain putt bounces back out on you, that is pain. Dwelling on it for the next 12 holes is suffering. Having a seemingly perfect drive barely tic off of a tree and end up OB is painful. Letting that get you so upset that you can’t throw a good drive for the rest of the round is suffering. Getting swarmed by mosquitos, gnats, and ticks during a tournament round is a lot of pain. All but giving up on your round because you’d rather be at home where there are no bugs is suffering.
I just had all three of those things happen to me last weekend. All 3 saw me inflict a good deal of suffering on myself. When I got home and saw that I had just shot my lowest rated tournament round ever, I decided I needed a little more suffering and brooded about that for a few hours too. Then, when I was done being pissed, I decided that the day wouldn’t be a total loss.
I picked up my well highlighted, marked up, and dog eared copy of The Obstacle Is the Way and turned to some of my favorite passages. I realized that my horrible tournament round was simply a test of my ability to endure pain without making it worse by adding a good sized helping of suffering on top. I failed that test. But I’m prepared to pass the tests that come in the future.
In reality, we need to file this one under the heading of much easier said than done. When we find ourselves in challenging and painful circumstances out on the course, it’s easy to forget all about the fact that we are inflicting suffering on ourselves. It takes a great deal of self awareness and self discipline to recognize it when it’s happening.
If you can manage to do that, though, it is well worth it. If you can stop, breath, and recognize that your are enduring suffering of your own doing, it’s one of the best disc golf and life skills you can develop. After all, we are out on the course to have fun, not to suffer, right?
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