Those of you who read me regularly will have noticed a two week absence of my blog. Those of you who’ve been with me for any length of time will have realised I’ve been watching the tennis at Roland Garros.
I always intend to continue blogging – and shopping, and gardening, and cleaning … but I inevitably get caught up in the excitement of it all, and anything non-essential vacates the premises for a while.
Along with all the fabulous successes, the unbearable failures and the disappearance of the ‘also-ran’s, I was struck, this year, by the continual references to the need for congruence in order to be a champion.
I first came across congruence as an idea at school. Learning about congruent triangles. Probably sounds familiar. I remember finding the experience frustrating.
On the one hand, I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why something so simple needed to be made so complex. Most of the examples of potentially congruent triangles were ragingly obvious to me. On the other hand, as a collector – and a writer – of rules, I was intrigued by the variety created to address what should have been a straightforward process.
I think my next encounter with congruence came when I was studying educational psychology. We were required to review a number of different popular types of counselling, and one of these was, of course, Rogerian. The concept of ‘being congruent’ is central to its methodology.
Again that frustration. ‘Being congruent’ was defined as being present with the client at an emotional level, not hiding or disguising one’s emotional responses to what is happening in the room. Sometimes, it was expressed as ‘being real or genuine’. I found myself increasingly inclined to ask: ‘How else could one be?’
But, apparently, other forms of therapy relied on the complete absence of personality on the part of the therapist, in the ridiculous belief that they could present a blank canvas to the client, leaving their own agenda somewhere else in the building, presumably packed neatly in a suitcase, ready to take home at the end of the day.
But also, that intrigue: Why would you want to do it that way? How does one learn to be completely devoid of emotion or opinion? And what does it feel like to be the client who is subjected to this strange modus operandi? (Believe me, I found out.)
Somewhere along the line, in amongst all the elusive overplay of technicalities, I must have decided that congruence was an invented and unhelpful idea that served no obvious function, and I put it to one side.
Until I encountered Caroline Myss, that is. You may remember I mentioned her a few weeks back. A brilliant theologian who cracked open any number of concepts for me and changed my life every time I came across her. When she started talking about congruence, I sat up and took notice.
For Caroline, the importance of congruence is aligned much more towards its dictionary definition of ‘agreement’ or ‘harmony’, and her particular interest is how one can be congruent with oneself. If, for example, one’s head and one’s heart are not congruent, then any meaningful wellbeing will be impossible.
This is hot stuff. It makes instant sense, yet it is utterly profound. In a society which commonly prefers to place priority on logic over emotion, the material over the ethereal, and financial profit over personal development or compassion, it is immediately apparent that we continue to damage ourselves, and those around us, if we try to carry out our lives as if the heart has no role to play. Not to mention the soul.
On a pragmatic level, the commentators at the French Open were pointing out that those players who were attempting to play a game that was in opposition to their character, were never going to succeed. Trying to play aggressively, for example, when you are a shy, retiring person, will only serve to build anxiety and stress, not a flowing technique.
They cited the dramatic improvement in Britain’s Kyle Edmund, as he has grown in maturity, allowing his personality to lead his strategic approach, so that all parts of his game are now congruent. Nothing jars or snags. He no longer defeats himself when he plays an opponent.
Perhaps the best, and most obvious, example is Roger Federer, who is congruence sublime when he floats across a grass court – and who, interestingly, no longer attempts to fight with the clay of Roland Garros.
And then there’s Rafa. An historic eleventh win at the tournament which he has come to claim as his own. A man so congruent on clay that the very laws of physics bow to his authority. Four thousand two hundred and six revolutions per minute on one of his forehands, for goodness’ sake!
For us, as writers – as with any artist – congruence is an essential ingredient of what we do. What is perhaps most interesting for us is that we need to be congruent to write well, but it is also writing itself that allows us to be congruent.
Maybe more thoughts to share on this … In the meantime, I’m probably going to practice what I preach for the next few weeks, as the grass court season begins. In an attempt to remain congruent with myself, I will not try to squeeze more into my day than is actually possible, and will likely put this blog aside while I relax into Queen’s, then Eastbourne, then Wimbledon … Oh bliss!
I look forward to reconnecting on the other side.