Life Force, Wimbledon & World Cup

Laura Robson

Laura Robson

Well it’s that year and that time: we are in the middle of the World Cup and Wimbledon has started.

I had the pleasure of watching the British 16 year old, Laura Robson, play her tennis singles match earlier this week. She lost the match but her playing was an inspiration. In someone so young it is particularly easy to perceive the difference between her playing a shot excellently as she has been coached to do and giving it the full 100% – as she did three times with match point against her. At that very fearful point of death (well – losing) she threw her absolute all into the moment with searing cross-court shots that astounded the crowd.

You would call playing a shot excellently 100% if you hadn’t the real 100% to compare it with. When you do compare, the difference is huge. In the first you witness excellent play, well-executed preparation, signs of forethought and good physical execution – you see someone doing the right thing. All fine. But in the second way you are in the presence of intense relaxed concentration, deep breathing and extraordinary power, focus and follow-through. The second example declares silently that there is no way this point is going to be lost – and we all feel it. It’s not doing the right thing; it’s going all the way for its own sake, for the joy of bringing 100% to it. It’s like saying, “All or nothing at this point? I choose All!”

What we feel as spectators is the excitement of witnessing someone intensely in the now, their physical well-being and enjoyment, their creativity and powerful intention. It energises us in the most exhilarating way. I call that difference life force.

Down in South Africa we see the same force in action with the football World Cup. We watch some matches where the England team play is of a high calibre; the footwork is mostly fast and skilled and the running and passing are carried out with panache yet you feel that the players are making the effort to get it right – getting it right as in not getting it wrong; there is fear there – of just that – getting it wrong, of failure, of censure, of letting people down, of looking bad. Today the English team won their game against Slovenia and the first comments of the delighted England Manager Fabio Capello were about freedom:” There was freedom. There was not fear … there was enjoyment …”

Freedom allows a performer the opportunity to seize the moment and give 100% for the passion and joy of the thing. You see that 100% in some of the South American players – that heart-lifting passion that has us spectators rising from our seats in excitement. I hear in my imagination a player with the ball saying: “Never mind what’s happened so far; never mind what happens later – it’s about this! See this! – mind and body working together with finely tuned attention! Isn’t that wonderful to share this moment?! – to trust this life force?!”

We have the opportunity to bring our life force to anything we do. And if we do it transforms it and everyone notices the difference. It thrives on technique but is much more than technique. It looks like concentration but is more than that too. It emerges where we trust ourselves to the present moment, where we forget ourselves and give our all spontaneously to the activity – whatever the outcome.

You will have examples of times when you are absorbed in the moment during some enjoyable activity. At such moments you are unaware of the passing of time as you live in the pleasurable concentrated moment of whatever it is you are doing. There is no unhelpful tension or stress in you and if asked about it afterwards you would say that you felt immensely alive.

Deepak Chopra has this to say on the subject:

“When your internal reference point is the ego, when you seek power and control over other people or seek approval from others, you spend energy in a wasteful way. When that energy is freed up, it can be rechanneled and used to create anything that you want.  When your internal reference point is your spirit, when you are immune to criticism and unfearful of any challenge, you can harness the power of love, and use energy creatively for the experience of affluence and evolution.”

Can you learn such things? I think you can learn anything. Your life force flourishes when you learn to trust yourself, so it means working on your beliefs. It requires you to be in the moment, so you learn how to focus and stay present. It requires you to be in your body as well as in your head, so you learn balance. It sometimes needs courage, so you learn to step into the unknown.

This kind of learning has the great bonus of applying to everything you set your mind to, be it leadership, presenting, communicating, creating a connection with others, working at any sort of project or creating change. That is why it is so worth learning – you light many candles with the one flame.

What has the NLP Diploma got to do with this? Well, that is a place where you can learn such things – in a down-to-earth way!

I like this question from the poet Mary Oliver I read recently:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I didn’t know for twenty years of my own wild and precious life but it’s certainly worth finding out – the sooner the better – and life force comes into it!

Carmen Herrera

Carmen1Carmen Herrera is a highly successful minimalist artist. Her radiant geometric paintings are on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC and the Tate Modern in London as well as commanding high prices all over the world.

Originally from Cuba where she studied architecture, she moved after her marriage to New York where she took a course in art. Subsequently she and her husband spent some time in Paris and it was here that she discovered geometric art at an exhibition. She was immediately consumed with passion for this kind of painting and knew it was the path she wanted to take. It meant changing her whole way of thinking and learning how to paint again. Gradually she refined and distilled her art, paring things down to their essence; she began to find her unique voice.

Her big break came when a friend put her name forward as a replacement when one of the artists in a New York exhibition of female geometric painters suddenly had to drop out. A collector bought five of her paintings and word quickly spread to other collectors. Before long her work was being snapped up all over the globe.

It’s the kind of rags to riches story you are probably familiar with …

… until we fill in some of the dates.

Carmen Herrera was born in 1915. She started to paint seriously in her late twenties. Her lucky break came just five years ago at the age of 89.

89! So what happened in the intervening 60 – 60! – years?

– Looked at from the outside, not much. She didn’t sell a single painting. Most days her husband would go off to work in the morning and she would get the housework out of the way and then paint; for hours and hours. Every now and then they would move to cheaper neighbourhoods so that she could continue to paint. Year after year she struggled with her art and her own limitations and found the way to move her passion forward.

Now Carmen Herrera is not your typical leader – a solitary woman artist, an immigrant, someone born before her time – but there is much about her that teaches me about the art of leadership:

–        she focused on what mattered

–        she started again when she needed to

–        she showed considerable personal strength

–        she displayed strong self belief

–        she worked extremely hard

–        she found her own voice and was finally heard by the world

–        and she is a magnificent example of the sheer indomitability of the human spirit!

We often think it’s all ‘out there’ – the challenges, difficulties, blocks, stuff to get done. But time after time history shows us that the real struggle is internal. The leader finds their true voice deep inside and is thus able to walk their talk on the outside.

Can you learn leadership and self-leadership? Certainly, though it will be different for everyone. It’s important to build your own awareness and find the space to look at your own practice. It doesn’t always take 94 years!