A swig of oat soda to steady your hand. Concentrate. A freshly-assembled triangle of righteousness awaits its impending destruction as the ball speeds onward. The feeling of a perfect strike.
Pool has a lot in common with the noble art of bowling, but perhaps the most overlooked similarity lies not within the game, but within the player.
A wiser fella than myself once said that when the difficulty of the game and the skill level of the player are in perfect harmony, the player enters the “Flow state.” This transcendence imbues one with a zen-like tranquility: time slows down, interruptions go unnoticed, and the game bends to your will. Whether it’s picking up that 3-10 split or banking the 8-ball into the top corner, if you’re in the Flow state you just know. You can see it all before it happens. Pool players call it dead-stroke.
There’s some kinda Eastern thing called Wu Wei, which literally translates as “without effort.” Far out, man. In the Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tzu (not exactly a lightweight,) describes it as the goal of spiritual practice for the human being; the attainment of this purely natural way of behaving, as when the planets revolve around the sun. The planets effortlessly revolve without any sort of control, force, or attempt to revolve themselves, instead engaging in effortless and spontaneous movement. And so it is with Flow.
Unfortunately the only way to incite this elusive experience is to practice, and that may seem too much like hard work, but therein lies the magic. Whether you’re shooting against your best buddy over a few Sarsaparillas at the local watering hole or facing Tom Cruise in The Color of Money (that creep can cue, man,) the game remains the same. It’s ALL practice.
The fact that a player can take ‘er easy and savor the tactile details of the game is another attribute that pool shares with bowling. The baize cushioning your palm… the weight of the cue in your hand… the wood gliding across your thumb… focusing on these little idiosyncrasies is a great way to keep you present and in-the-moment which, as well as being very dude, also helps elevate your consciousness towards the Flow state. Just like when Bart is playing mini-golf, Lisa asks “If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around, does it make a sound?” Ruminating upon this in-game, Bart is able to totally zen out and sink a hole-in-one. Fuckin’ A.
We all have days when we feel completely Munsoned, but it’s good to know that pool, or bowling, can help. On the surface they’re a great excuse to enjoy a few beverages with your friends, but go a little deeper and you’ll find bona fide meditation. Through all the strikes and gutters that life throws at you, the pockets are always the same size. The pins are forever 60 feet away. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. And hell, a bad day at playing pool still beats a good day at work!
Tune in, rack up, zen out.