I lack poise, though perhaps that assessment is unduly harsh; it is more accurate to say I lack poise when having it matters most. Perhaps that is why I cannot quit thinking about Maya Moore’s buzzer-beater in Game 3 of the WNBA finals.
You don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate the drama of the moment: two teams, the Minnesota Lynx and the Indiana Fever, locked in a fierce five-game series for the national championship, neither able to gain a decisive advantage. Game 3, last Friday, was a back-and-forth microcosm that left the two teams tied with 1.7 seconds left. It was up to Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen to inbound the ball past a frantic Fever defense for one last shot.
Here’s how it went:
The deke, the set, the jump. The ball spinning from Moore’s fingertips with a scant half-second left. And then a suspended hush, broken by the swish of the ball clearing the net. A three-point piece of perfection. The home crowd in Indiana was crushed, while my father and I — Minnesota fans — whooped joyously in front of the television.
But it was Moore’s poise, more than the win, that most impressed me. Any of the players on the court that evening — or on the bench, for that matter — was capable of making that shot. Each has the skills and, nearly as important, the confidence that those skills will make a difference.
Poise requires both. When I lose it, it’s not because I’ve lost my abilities, but because I’ve lost my sense of agency, my confidence that what I do will make things better. While I handle job interviews with aplomb — I know what needs doing, and how to stay focused and do it — I rapidly lose equilibrium and self-assurance when one of my animals becomes ill. I am no longer certain, in such circumstances, exactly what is happening, nor what I can do to positively affect the outcome. The present moment — what is right in front of me, right now — recedes beneath an agony of anticipation and worry. That’s a problem, because it undermines my capacity to see clearly and act effectively.
What I saw in Maya Moore is the solution. As I watched her make that shot, I observed something beyond skill, and more profound than confidence: complete presence of mind. As many times as I’ve used that expression, I have never seen it so perfectly embodied. Watch the video again: From the instant Moore draws a bead on the basket until well after the ball clears the net and hits the floor, she is perfectly in the moment. Everything else recedes; nothing else matters — not the game up to that point, nor what might come after. Just being fully present for that one critical moment. That’s what sets Moore apart; that’s what makes her great.
And yes, it’s true: The intensity of athletic competition has a way of clarifying things, of benching distractions and focusing attention on the field of play. Our lives lack that simplicity; they sometimes seem instead to be a muddle of fleeting happiness, perpetual obligation and the endless in-between. Our critical moments materialize not as crucial shots on goal, but as a sick pet, an unfaithful lover, a struggling child or parent. They’re rarely as quick and clean as Maya Moore’s make-or-break basket.
But they ask the same of us: Poise. A refusal to be carried away by regret over what has gone before or fears of what may yet come. Presence of mind. Being fully here, now.
I need a lot of practice at that. If you do, too, look into the free Mindfulness Summit occurring online this month; more than 100,000 people all around the world are participating. No catches or gimmicks; just a chance each day to benefit from the wisdom of some of the West’s best mindfulness teachers.
If, on the other hand, you’re just interested in great basketball, you can join another electronic community – those of us who will be watching the final, decisive game of the WNBA championships: Minnesota Lynx vs. Indiana Fever, 8 p.m. Eastern Time Wednesday — that’s tomorrow — on ESPN2.