The KEY Questions: What can we learn from the past?

I stuck the plastic tee into the ground at my feet, placed the ball in position upon it and stared off into the distance at that little red flag waving in the breeze, impossibly far away. Its jerky back and forth movement made it seem as though it was mocking me. “Fancy yourself a golfer? Bet you can’t reach me!” it seemed to be saying. Not a bet I would have accepted. I shook out the meanest-looking driver in the bag and gave a couple of tentative practice swings with it. But really, who was I kidding? It was the sixth hole, and though it seemed to me that each of the previous five had also had their challenges, they were nothing like this. This hole was in a league of its own. Whoever designed the course, I decided, was either a practical joker or a professional equipped with biceps like the Incredible Hulk. The best I could hope for was a miserable four shots just to get on the green. But there was even a problem with that! The hole was on the other side of a lake … a big lake. No getting around it, this was going to take a superhuman effort.


I had come across this golf course quite by chance, halfway down the Florida Keys, and decided on the spur of the moment to indulge in a round. I was alone on this occasion but that didn’t matter. I like to be spontaneous when I’m relaxing and besides, it meant there would be no one around to witness my humiliation when I inevitably failed to reach the hole. Small mercies. Now, looking at that distant flag, I finally began to understand why Americans eat steak and eggs for breakfast. Well I wasn’t going to give up without a fight. I stood my ground, trying to remember every tip I’d ever heard about teeing off. I made sure my posture was correct, feeling the pleasing weight of the driver in my hands as it swung gently back and forth. I bent my knees slightly, raised the club way over my head and let it fly. It made perfect contact with the ball which took off like a rocket, making a satisfying hissing sound as it cut through the air, climbing higher and higher before finally, after what seemed like a full minute, submitting to gravity and falling with a resounding ‘plunk’…


…into the lake. It hadn’t even got half way.


We all face many challenges in the course of a lifetime, and very often we don’t feel up to the task. Maybe we’re off our game, either through illness or lack of practice. Then again maybe we’ve fallen out of love with the sport altogether. Or – as in this case – we find ourselves doing perfectly natural, familiar things in very unfamiliar surroundings. And when we’re faced with a daunting task, a major problem in our life, where do we look for inspiration, where do we feel the answer lies? In the past.


We look back to the past, to the accumulation of experiences, good and bad, that brought us to this point. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? At least that’s what psychiatrists since Freud have always believed when they come to treat depressed, mentally unstable or otherwise troubled souls, that something must have happened to create this imbalance. If the cause of the patient’s unhappiness can be uncovered, can be finally understood, then healing will naturally take place. It sounds plausible enough but there’s just one problem with all this.


It doesn’t work.


Sydney Banks had a different approach. He dared to suggest that the job of the psychiatrist was not to focus on the source of the patient’s problems – an approach that at best brings only temporary relief, at worst perpetuates the negative feelings – but to teach him or her the secret of mental wellbeing, to ‘teach’ happiness in effect. And that happiness can be experienced immediately, through understanding the Three Principles. Mental health follows, in his words, “when mind and soul are in unison”.


Nothing in my past experience could help me that day on the golf course for one simple reason. I was facing the wrong way. When I turned around and saw that I’d teed off in the opposite direction to the hole I was embarrassed but somewhat enlightened too. Mind was telling me to get back on track! I birdied the hole and went on to have a very pleasant round of golf.


What lessons have you learned from the past?