In past meditations, I’ve written about the all-important moment of not-knowing. This is when we’ve set up to hit our shot and have committed to our swing. Will it succeed or will it fail? Will the gods smile when we find out how we’ve done? Also: How do we respond emotionally to that plunge into uncertainty? Do we get overcautious and try to control the outcome? Do we falter in the opposite direction, say “what the hell” to ourselves, and just go for broke?

There are better and worse ways to approach the moment of not-knowing. If we take a deep dive into why this is, I believe we come out here: We are wired to be binary. An event can produce a positive reaction, and it can produce a negative reaction. This is why we get so invested in the outcome. We want to feel good, not bad, when it’s done.

The less invested we are in the outcome, the easier it becomes to be present and to execute as well as we possibly can. When we’re non-attached, hopes and fears don’t get in the way. “No appointments, no disappointments,” as the spiritual teacher Muktananda used to say. But how do we get there? How do we achieve this equanimity?

My answer for today is: From on high. Our binary processing tracks back all the way to survival essentials. ‘Feels good’ means our needs will be met. It means we’ll get to eat and live for another day. ‘Feels bad’ means the opposite. It means — cue the anxiety! — we won’t eat. No, we’ll get eaten by that big-shouldered critter across the net!

Climb up the ladder, slip through the wormhole, and that silly, simple shot you’re facing translates into nothing less than: Light versus dark. Good versus evil. And, even more to the point: Life versus death.

So how do we find our way to being okay with the prospect of death? It’s a hard nut to crack, to be sure, but the sages have done it, and you and I can do it too, even if we don’t subscribe to a convenient heaven-ever-after worldview, which certainly makes it a lot easier.

In a prior meditation (“One Paradox to Rule Them All”), I wrote about how more and more terminally ill people are taking big doses of magic mushrooms in a supervised setting to help them deal with their imminent passing. Typically, this takes them to a place where they’re deeply okay with dying. There’s a mystery beyond what our minds can process. Magic mushrooms give us a glimpse of that Mystery, and that glimpse tells us: There is only good.

Things aren’t binary, in other words. All that’s a grand con, a cosmic ‘gotcha’ game. The entire contest — good versus bad, life versus death — is a fiction. An illusion.

Our tennis game thrives on equanimity. We self-destruct when we get rattled. Thus, the converse also obtains: If there’s no getting rattled, there’s no self-destruction. How do we get there? By climbing back down through the wormhole.

If death is okay, then all as-if deaths are also okay.

I’ve always viewed the New Age expression “it’s all good” as a cocktail-party way to spiritual virtue-signal. Behind that, though, it’s profoundly true and it’s also truly profound. I’m going to keep saying something to myself, and I’ll keep saying it until it finally sticks: You know what, Carl? It really is all good.

How do you handle not-knowing? How good are you at equanimity when you play tennis and, more importantly, when you play the game of life?

You‘re playing a match that you’ve gone into with a clear strategy. The competition sucks you in and when you emerge from the vortex, you realize that as things got hotter, you totally forgot about your strategy.

Sound familiar? Hell, I’ve even written instructions on my sweatband and forgotten they were there!

Why does this happen to us, over and over again?

Tennis drags you into what I call the Immediate Now. It’s where you go when your fight-or-flight instincts have been activated and you experience yourself as in a life-and-death struggle for survival.

When a guy comes at you with a knife, all you can see is that knife. All you can think about is staying alive. You‘re in the Immediate Now.

Tennis matches simulate fight-or-flight battles for survival. That’s what makes them so absorbing. They are battles to the death where the blood is only metaphorical. They‘re like medieval jousts, only without the horses and with rackets instead of lances.

You can’t strategize from inside the Immediate Now. Strategizing requires you to look at patterns and tendencies over time, and that can only be done from a hilltop above our survival-driven absorption in the present moment. This is why we forget about strategy in the heat of competition.

In order to stay strategic while competing, we need to duplex our consciousness so that it stays active both at the level of the Immediate Now and upmountain a piece, where we can think more strategically and inclusively.

This requires us to inhabit a paradox — we have to stay detached while also being fully engaged. We need to be here now, as the expression has it, while also maintaining a certain distance and perspective. This doesn‘t come naturally to most of us. But it‘s do-able.

A great time to bring your strategizing self back online is during the break to change court sides. There, at least theoretically, you have a chance to regroup, remember, and climb back up the mountain until the time comes for the next change of sides, and the next remembering.

But you have to remember to remember — and therein lies the challenge.

Do you get sucked into the Immediate Now in ways that don’t serve you? Do you use your capacity for different time perspectives to your strategic and emotional advantage?

‘Micro-tennis?’ Micro-tennis????

Yup! Or, as it’s usually known, short court.

I’ve become a huge fan of starting off with short court. I find that I play much better when I spend a few minutes hitting the ball gently, focusing on things like feel off the racket and slow-motion technique while allocating special attention to what I’ll be working on that day. Recently, that’s meant things like turning head and neck as single unit to watch the contact, making sure I’m giving myself enough space on both sides, engaging the wrist in the newfangled modern way (lag-and-snap, y’all, lag-and snap!), and more.

I find short court to be a great way to sharpen my attention and get ready for the full-on session to come. It’s like putting a toe in the water rather than diving into the pool straightaway.

Most if not all undertakings have an underlying process, a sequence that allows them to unfold with all the style and elegance they’re capable of. When you jump over that process, when you cut to the ball-banging chase, you’re denying yourself the chance to get in synch with the beneath-the-surface rhythms and the quality of attention that let you make the most of your game.

This is why the alternative name ‘micro-tennis’ occurred to me. The power of what’s commonly known as short court doesn’t come from the size of the court — it comes from the quality of attention that it makes possible. Micro-tennis gives us a great opportunity to drill down to subtle levels without having to deal with that big scary ball coming at you.

Transitions matter — a lot. Micro-tennis makes a great bridge that lets us pass from our ordinary off-court reality into the altered state that is part of tennis’s great allure.

Want to increase the odds of getting into flow? Sart off with micro-tennis.

Are you a short-court aficionado? Do you honor the rhythms of transition on the court and off it?