The Hanging Curve Ball: Fear and Loathing in the Field of Life

In honor of Opening Week in Baseball, I'll share one of many learning moments gleaned as a longtime baseball mom.

It’s Saturday night. Manny Ramirez, one of the most feared hitters in baseball is at bat against the Houston Astros. The count is 1and 2 with two outs, and there are runners on first and second.

Brandon BackeWhat was pitcher Brandon Backe, thinking?

I’m told that any intelligent baseball pitcher would be thinking that the one pitch they would not want to throw is a hanging curve ball- hovering over the plate at leisurely 75 miles per hour. So somewhere in the recesses of his mind or maybe right out in those frontal lobes, Backe might have been thinking, “Don’t throw a hanging curve ball.” He might have been sweating too.

And what happened? He threw a stunningly still hanging curve ball and Manny Ramirez pelts it off the left rear wall of the stadium. Two runners score.

So, there I am eavesdropping in the kitchen and I venture that this is a perfect example of  how energy follows thought.  In other words, the more fear attached to the thought of throwing a hanging curve ball the more likely it would happen. Instead of being greeted with the usual blank stares or embarrassed ,“Oh,Mom”, I got just the opposite reaction from my audience who included a former college pitcher.

The discussion deepened. Would Backe have thrown a good curve ball if the hitter had been an average hitter, someone less intimidating? Are some pitchers more likely to throw worse pitches to someone they fear like Manny Ramirez? Is the fear he elicits by virtue of his record and unpredictable style one of the factors that makes him such a good hitter? I’ll leave the answers to the real baseball pundits and their pages of statistics.

But let’s get back to my comment about energy and thought.  Many years ago I was introduced to the  ideas of the Law of Attraction. They have been popularized by such movies as “The Secret” and a slew of self-help books, tapes and study courses.  It goes basically like this: Like attracts like. Our thoughts and beliefs, whether we are conscious of them or not, attract what we want and believe to be true.

I take issue with some of the interpretation and the extravagant promises of many who have embraced and teach the tenets of this philosophy. Why so much emphasis on the accumulation of wealth and power? Sometimes too there is the implicit blaming of those who suffer illness or loss as if they knowingly brought it on themselves.  

To me, life is not just about being in control, an ego based response, but rather cultivating consciousness-learning about our part and responsibility in a larger matrix of life and spirit.

But I do believe that there are countless moments in everyday life when our thoughts, infused with the energy of fear- of failure, shame, catastrophe, make it hard for us to be our best selves. We face the possibility of our own personal “hanging curve ball”. We undermine our strength. We second guess our skills.  We plant doubt where confidence and acceptance would serve us better. Eckhart Tolle points out in A New Earth that our bodies respond to fearful thoughts the same way as if the events were actually taking place in the moment.  The resulting stress response further muddles our actions.

These are the moments when we, as cultivators of awareness have some choice. Can we make fear go away? Not really. But can we acknowledge it, mitigate stress with mental spiritual and physical practices, and choose to look past or envision another outcome? I think so.  One of my dear teachers often says that when there is a part of ourselves that we recognize and don’t like, then we should keep that part very close- make friends with it and let it always sit on our shoulder so we know it is there. Fighting with or trying to ignore only feeds and energizes our anger, our pettiness, our fear. Only in awareness does fear lose its power over us. Only then can we exercise a real choice in our behavior.  Only then can we choose faith and courage to propel us beyond the boundaries of fear.

It is two innings later, the same scenario: two outs, two runners and a 1 and 2 count. Backe tosses another breaking ball and Manny bounces it to the infield.  Backe fields it to first for the out. Was Backe thinking or feeling differently? Was Manny not up to speed?  Speculation is just that. But I like to think Backe saw and then looked past the spectre of the hanging curve ball, focusing with confidence on the job he knows how to do- one pitch at a time.

Originally Posted in Huffington Post Living

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