Novak Djokovic and The Power of Now

Novak Djokovic and The Power of Now

Live in the moment is a piece of everyday advice. But how many people do you know who actually follow the advice? In today’s world full of distractions, I know only a handful of such people in my personal life. And then one public figure, men's current World №. 1 tennis player, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, who just won Wimbledon - his 20th Grand Slam title - a record tied with the Swiss Maestro Roger Federer and Spain's Raging Bull Rafael Nadal.

I have been following Djokovic’s career closely since the mid-2000s. I’ve witnessed how a boy from the Balkans turned into the quintessential champion he is today. If you are a die-hard tennis fan like me, you will know what Djokovic did to the mighty Federer at the 2010 and 2011 US Open semifinals, as well as at the 2019 Wimbledon final. Djokovic saved match points to win those matches and, in the instance of Wimbledon, the Championship!

Being a huge Federer fan, those matches hurt me — that’s a sports fan saying. But those matches made me realise what Djokovic is truly made of. He is the Man of Steel, and he is someone who has mastered the power of now, i.e. living your best life in the present time or moment. He understands and holds the power of now very well and regularly beats his biggest rivals and hostile crowds.

The Power of Now is also a book by Eckhart Tolle, the famed writer and spiritual teacher from Germany. The book, which is promoted as a guide to spiritual enlightenment, happens to be the favourite book of Djokovic. He made that claim in a video released by the ATP in 2009.

I’ve wanted to read that book for some time, and I finally did so this week.

While reading the book, I realised Djokovic uses the wisdom and mental training methods mentioned in the book for his on-court performance.

Just become intensely conscious of the present moment. This is a deeply satisfying thing to do. - Eckhart Tolle

Only a person who is genuinely in the moment can do what Djokovic did to Federer on those three occasions. He had to block out the crowd noise and entirely focus on points in the play to do what he did. Djokovic could not let any negative thoughts affect his service or return at those moments. If you see the highlights of those three matches, you will see how well he executed the points during clutch moments. He has done this countless times in his career. It is only possible because Djokovic is in a constant state of pure consciousness while playing tennis. That state of being aware and responsive to one's surroundings is called the realm of no-mind in the Eastern world (according to Tolle, Zen masters use the word satori to describe a flash of insight, a moment of no-mind and real presence). And Djokovic is the King of the realm.

Djokovic is well aware of the terminology of Tolle's teachings. I've seen him using exact words from the book to describe his psychology in many interviews.

While talking to American journalist Graham Bensinger, Djokovic spoke about how he handles clutch moments by practising mindfulness, for example — meditation and journaling. He mentions taking help from life coaches and spiritual guides in the same video. He said just being happy, joyful and present on the court, consciously focusing on his breathing and getting the best of the experience helps him facing break points and match points and executing them right.

The wisdom Djokovic uttered is spread out over ten different chapters in Tolle’s book. An entire chapter called 'Mind Strategies for Avoiding the Now' talks about delusion, unconsciousness, and the internal purpose. Things that Djokovic seems to be aware of while on the court.

Become aware of your breathing. Feel the air flowing in and out of your body. Feel your inner energy field. All that you ever have to deal with, cope with, in real life - as opposed to imaginary mind projections - is this moment. - Eckhart Tolle

Is this transcendent for you? Well, Djokovic has always been highly spiritual. He is reported to visit a Buddhist temple to meditate between matches during Wimbledon every year. He also does yoga and eats a gluten-free, mostly plant-based diet and has written extensively about it in his book, Serve to Win.

Watch the following hour-long video of him talking to author and former monk Jay Shetty, and you will know how he thinks.

For me, Djokovic's most impressive win was the 2015 US Open final against Federer. It was played inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, the world's largest tennis stadium with a capacity of almost 24,000 people. The entire crowd was behind Federer throughout the match, but Djokovic came out of it triumphantly.

A similar incident took place at the 2019 Wimbledon final. The fans were cheering for Federer and not so much for Djokovic. Djokovic still won in the end after saving two Championship points. In his press conference post-Wimbledon victory, Djokovic said that facing the crowd is part of his mental training. When the crowd chants 'Roger', he hears 'Novak'. This is the kind of stuff that needs to be taught at sports psychology courses.  

Djokovic also has a problem-solving mentality. Most tennis professionals struggle against greats like Nadal and Federer on their favourite surfaces - clay and grass. But Djokovic has beaten Nadal twice at French Open and beaten Federer thrice at Wimbledon. The only man to do so.

Talking about the 2019 Wimbledon final in an article for The Ringer, journalist Brian Phillips writes, ‘Tennis is a game of moments hidden inside a game of runs. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player who knows how to exploit that duality better than Djokovic’. Phillips ends his brilliant article with this observation about Djokovic — ‘He knows how to stay calm and play smart when he’s being outplayed because he’s used to feeling that things aren’t going his way. He knows how to capitalize on a match’s moments of crisis because he is in a perpetual state of micro-crisis. He’s learned to rely on himself because he can’t rely on the crowd. Of course this is all speculation — I can’t see inside Djokovic’s mind — but it has explanatory value during matches like today’s, when he wins in ways that seem to defy all tennis logic. It also has an irony that feels Djokovician in its essence. He wanted us to love him and we didn’t, so he figured out how to overcome us as well as his opponent. We helped him learn to win by wanting him to lose’.

Djokovic is the best kind of crisis manager out there. Last month, he showed us his crisis management skills when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the 2021 French Open final and again last week when he beat Matteo Berrettini in the 2021 Wimbledon final. Djokovic was two sets down in the first and one set down in the latter, and in both matches, he made a winning comeback! A true champion.

My favourite player is Federer. But I am going to watch Djokovic beat every tennis record there is, all thanks to  his mastery of the power of now.

Coming back to the book, I found the book insightful. My favourite part of the book was about the understanding of 'observation of the mind' instead of 'identification with mind' and 'clock time' as opposed to 'psychological time'. The majority of the book's theme revolves around time which Tolle calls an illusion. According to him, thinking about the future and the past are futile exercises. He says - All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry - all forms of fear - are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.

In one paragraph, Tolle quotes the great Rumi to convince us to how the Now is central to the teaching of Sufism -

Past and future veil God from our sight; burn up both of them with fire. - Rumi

Tolle's take on love, relationships, addiction and pain is quite appealing. At the end of the book, he explains to us the meaning of surrender. Tolle's conclusion of the book is about making NOW the primary focus of your life. But he also explains why and how in the book.  

I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys reading about spirituality. But if you are new to this subject concerned with the human spirit/soul or are easy to judge, I won't recommend it to you. You may find the book heavy or even nonsensical.  

Some people might find a repetition of the be present message, but I think it is required for the correct comprehension. When it comes to subjects of the inner body, the Unmanifested and meditation, the reader might want to re-read the chapters before getting into practice.

If you are open-minded and want to taste a bit of Tolle's philosophy, watch the following clip of him talking to Oprah.

To conclude Tolle's philosophy in his own words -

So don't seek to become free of desire or "achieve" enlightenment. Become present. Be there as the observer of the mind. Instead of quoting the Buddha, be the Buddha, be the "awakened one", which is what the word buddha means. - Eckhart Tolle

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