Finding your Way: The Importance of the Teacher. From Chapter 6.
This material was reproduced by permission of Quest Books, the imprint of The Theosophical Publishing House (www.questbooks.com) from The Metaphysics of Ping-Pong: Table Tennis as a Journey of Self-Discovery by Guido Mina di Sospiro, © 2015 by Guido Mina di Sospiro.
And then there was the pain.
At first my movements were awkward, which doesn’t mean that they weren’t full of power or even impetuous. For the forehand loop I did a movement that reminded Jaime of half of that of a discus thrower. Only half, of course, as I couldn’t twirl on myself so as to wind down the inertia. It’s the wrong movement for the loop, and on top of that, since it was aborted half the way through as I had to get back in position (‘reload’), the result the next day was invariably tremendous back pain. Sometimes almost paralysing: I couldn’t get out of bed. And the number of muscles I have pulled in my foolish struggle against proper style… Since I’ve begun to execute the various movements correctly, there has been no more back pain or pulled muscles. In fact, the correct movement takes less energy and produces a better, and also mercifully painless, result.
There’s nothing like hitting our head against the wall till the very wall knocks some sense into us. An ancient Chinese saying states: ‘When I hear, I forget; when I see, I remember; when I do, I understand.’ The teacher’s role, at this level, is that of the pathfinder, the facilitator, the enabler. Someone who can give us the key to our own treasure or, in other words, our own talent and ability. The twelfth-century mystic and poet Nizami Ganjavi wrote: ‘By yourself you can do nothing: seek a Friend. If you could taste the slightest bit of your / insipidity, you would recoil from it.’
Taoist wisdom, too, states that teachers and friends play a vital role for support and guidance along the path, spiritual or otherwise, or both. And a fully realised master, one who embodies the Tao, is a priceless gem. The ultimate teacher resides in our own heart, but until we’ve made a stable connection with this inner wisdom, it’s crucial to take advantage of these forms of external guidance.
Putting it in a Sufic way, as the twentieth-century author Idries Shah did, ‘It is not a matter of being compelled to break eggs before an omelette can be made; but of the eggs doing their own breaking in order to be able to aspire to omelettehood.’
Finding a teacher whose only interest is in their disciple’s progress is a gift from the gods. I can’t think of a better way to develop your abilities, and in hindsight it strikes me as incredible that at first I should have been reluctant to learn from Jaime’s teachings. And yet, before embracing them fully, there were intense discussions in store, and then almost polemic exchanges.
Each training session left me dog-tired and, if not outright injured, aching. I never imagined that table tennis could be so taxing. Going back home one night after one such session with just enough energy to drive, I made the wrong turn – and found myself entering the CIA Headquarters in Langley.
‘Oh dear,’ I said to myself as I realised that there was no turning back, since it was a one-way street. I could have stopped, made a U-turn, and exited the wrong way, but that would have been a much more conspicuous faux pas than entering in error, and I didn’t even want to imagine how it’d have been received. No, I had to go all the way down to the roadblock. Dread was building inside me with every turn of the wheels.
It seemed forever, but I finally reached the roadblock. As soon as I did, heavily armed guards surrounded my car pointing machine guns at me. They started barking questions.
I lowered my window and looked at them. I very much wanted to make a good impression on them, but found myself tongue-tied because I didn’t know if I should address them as ‘sir,’ ‘officer’ or ‘guard.’ When I did find the gift of speech, I guess my accent didn’t help, and I don’t think my goatee was a good ambassador either. I’m not sure, but it could be that the more alarmed I grew, the thicker my accent got. A-ha, they must have thought, his thin disguise is crumbling quickly!
Still, I explained that I had simply made the wrong turn on my way home.
‘‘‘Simply,” you said? Do you realise where you are?’ asked a female guard who, by looking cool and seeming less hostile, came off as the most threatening of them all.
Is that a trick question? I wondered silently. If I answer, ‘Of course I do, these are the CIA’s Headquarters,’ then they’ll say, ‘And if you knew it, why the hell did you drive in here?’ Then, what should I tell them? Or rather, as when we were schoolchildren, what is it that they want to hear me say?
All this frantic thinking made my situation worse, because my reticence in replying was being perceived as suspect. All I could tell them eventually was that I’d been training for table tennis, was exhausted and, while driving home, I’d absentmindedly turned right too soon.
‘Ping-pong tires you out?’ the female guard asked, with doubt – or scorn? – all over her face.
As I said, ‘Yes, madam, it does,’ I took a good look at her. She was young, fit, taller than average, with blonde hair of medium length, a fine face, beautiful eyes, and looked clever. I couldn’t help wondering why on Earth she’d want that job? I was tempted to ask, but with everybody still clutching nervously their machine gun, including her, I concluded that my question would have been deemed inappropriate, nay, impertinent, nay, cause enough for being charged with insulting a public official.
‘Your driver’s licence,’ she said.
I took it out of my wallet and handed it to her.
While my details were being checked, another guard asked, gruffly: ‘What’s in the bag?’
Three hand-held flashlights sent their beams roving all over the Chinese bag on the passenger seat.
I replied, this time promptly: ‘Ping-pong rackets. That’s because I was driving back from my ping-pong club – you see? – on my way home. I’ve got two rackets in it, glue, a rubber cleaner, some balls, a towel – let me show you.’
As I reached for the bag, I felt the point of a machine gun pressed against my temple: ‘Don’t you move!’
More guards were summoned and arrived in haste. The bag looked awfully suspicious in itself, but when the guards saw the red star on it, alarm bells must have rung in their ears. And the proud writing in Mandarin ‘Serve for the people’ mustn’t have helped either. When Chinese players marvel at my bag, I tell them, ‘Well, that’s what I do: when I serve (during a match), I serve for the people!’ The joke must have been lost on the guards, I’m not sure whether for lack of a sense of humour or for lack of Mandarin, or both.
By then I was beginning to entertain ghastly visions of my being interrogated in some wicked way until I gave in and signed a confession stating that my rackets were, in fact, not rackets, but the latest and most sophisticated instruments of electronic espionage.
In the end, a guard mustered enough courage to open the suspicious-looking bag. And guess what? It contained: two rackets, glue, a rubber cleaner, some balls and a towel, precisely as I’d claimed.
The female guard said, ‘OK, your story checks out.’ Then, changing tone and speaking as if we were having a chat over a cup of coffee, she asked, a gleam of incredulity still in her eyes: ‘Does ping-pong really make you tired?’
‘Yes, madam, very tired, enough to make me take the wrong turn.’
‘Yeah, I can see that.’ Resuming her former tone: ‘All right, you’re free to go. Drive around the block and head back out on the opposite lane. But pay more attention next time. You don’t want to get into trouble for a game of ping-pong, do you?’
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About the Author: Guido Mina di Sospiro has been fascinated by table tennis since childhood and regularly plays competitively. He has written four books that have been published around the world, one of them co-authored with the scholar of western esoterica Joscelyn Godwin, and maintains a blog on the web-magazine Reality Sandwich and on the alternative views website Disinformation, both based in New York City. Mina di Sospiro lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his wife.
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