What do the great spiritual teachers say? Grigor Dimitrov might not claim to know the answer, but he applied it on Wednesday at Roland Garros.
One key insight from any serious and fundamentally responsible spiritual teacher is that one must live in the now. We obviously need to learn from the past and plan for the future, but we can’t be prisoners of our history or always worried about what lies ahead. Mature spirituality can certainly look backward and forward, pivoting between accumulated experiences and the challenges of tomorrow, but at its heart, the height of spiritual wisdom is primarily focused on the present moment, the only moment we can deal with right now.
We can lament at 3 p.m. an unfortunate series of events which occurred at the noon hour, and we can worry about the difficult tasks awaiting us at 6 p.m., but we can’t undo the reality of noon at 3 p.m. We also can’t solve a 6 o’clock problem at 3 p.m., either. We can only deal with the problems and challenges and opportunities which exist at 3 p.m. The past might have been cruel to us and the future might have a set of plans we won’t like, but we can always choose our responses to hardships. We can always reshape our mindsets in the present moment.
We can sulk. We can lament. We can doubt. We can play the familiar tape recorder in our minds which feeds us the voices of exasperation, hesitation, self-loathing, and anger.
Or….. we can focus on the task in front of us, choosing not to carry the baggage of our past, choosing not to dwell in the places where our wounds and our scars still linger.
When we suffer memorable disappointments, they mark our lives. That mark will always be there as a shaping influence, but it doesn’t have to dominate our thoughts. The pain absorbed in an awful life moment can’t be erased, but the way in which that pain affects us is what we can try to resolve.
Does pain educate and empower us, giving us new insight and wisdom? If we’re doing it right, it will. Does pain merely drags us down, deeper and deeper into an abyss of misery and bitterness? If we’re doing it wrong, that will be the scenario.
The present moment — right now — is when we always make the decision, made new in each successive present-tense moment, one by one, to either transform pain or let it overwhelm us. The present moment — always the only moment we can control, not the moment one hour ago or one hour in the future — is when we can newly choose to learn from the past and not be controlled by it. The present moment is when we can always — no matter how awful life’s surrounding events or realities might be — choose inner freedom over internal imprisonment.
I haven’t talked at all about tennis shots or tennis tactics or break points saved in a fifth set… or comebacks from a two-sets-to-one deficit to win a match in 4 hours and 23 minutes against a former major champion, Marin Cilic.
I haven’t really needed to.
Grigor Dimitrov played a lot of high-quality tennis in his five-set win over Cilic. We saw the glorious one-handed backhand. We saw the racquet skills, the court coverage, the physical fitness which won yet another round-of-64 match at Roland Garros. One year ago, Dimitrov beat Jared Donaldson in 4 hours and 20 minutes in this same round. He has shown that he is capable of competing. He has shown that he is capable of enduring. He has shown that he is capable of achieving, having won an ATP Finals title and having reached multiple major semifinals.
Those achievements simply haven’t come consistently.
Dimitrov often plays like a man imprisoned by his past. In the first-set tiebreaker of this match against Cilic, he double-faulted, paving the way for Cilic to win the set.
Dimitrov could have been imprisoned by that moment. He could have played the negative tape recorder in his brain when he fell behind two sets to one. He had so many moments in a 4:23 match when he could have faltered and sunk into his familiar pit of misery.
He didn’t. He lived in freedom. He lived in the present moment.
This match wasn’t about turning around his career, though it might.
This match wasn’t about undoing the past — it can’t be undone, as said above.
This match wasn’t about proving the critics wrong, though that might fuel Dimitrov in meaningful ways.
This match was about learning to live in freedom, untethered to the past. This was not a journey to show outsiders what he could do; this was an inner journey for Dimitrov, a process of self-transformation which, if successful, can enable Dimitrov to reclaim the heights he has lost.
Does this win mean Dimitrov has figured it all out? We will see, but we shouldn’t really think about this match in those terms. This is a long-term journey, not an instant fix. The value of this match lies in the simple reality that on one day, one afternoon, in one set of circumstances — one present moment — Grigor Dimitrov was still capable of living in the now and living in freedom from his past.
If he continues to live in the power of now, the future will take care of itself.
For now, the present moment is a lot happier for Dimitrov than the previous month and a half.
Dimitrov has earned the right to be happy in this new present moment. Let’s see how much more happiness he can create for himself… and the millions of fans around the world who dearly want to see this man do well.