The weekly game started off easy enough. I was paired with an A player, someone pleasant, not too chatty, a gal who would keep me on my toes. We stayed quiet at first, giving each other room to find our golf swings and establish a rhythm.

After several holes she asked, “Where did you play college basketball?”

I bit my lip, then answered, “Oh, I started out in a place you’ve probably never heard of, Carl Albert Junior College in eastern Oklahoma.”

She laughed. Not only had she heard of it, but knew it well. (She and her late husband had lived in the small town and now she serves on the board of trustees for the school.)

I was startled, not so much by the coincidence (I’ve learned to expect those), but by the panic that filled my throat. Old emotions rose from deep within and soon flashbacks of my freshman year of college filled my head. I felt as if I was reliving my past. And in some ways I was.

It was 1977 and I had moved away from home for the first time. The college town itself was not big, but big enough. It offered a freedom I had never experienced. And, just like many freshmen in college I made mistakes, embarrassing mistakes.

Right then we teed off on #16, an easy par 4, and my game fell apart. Hers didn’t. She took home the prize money for the day, while I struggled to stay in the game.

Later at home, I found a way to process the unbridled emotions that lingered and stayed with me. First I acknowledged the emotions, felt them for what they were, and gave them (and me) room to breathe. I chose to open the old wounds instead of shoving them back into the nethers of my psyche. I pulled out my journal and started scribbling.

Within minutes I began to calm down, to feel at peace, to understand and know that my emotions do not define me. They are like an ocean wave hitting shore, ebbing and flowing. They are like a breeze blowing by, something fragmented and brief, something ephemeral, just a passing thing. They will return, but they will go again.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and spiritual leader, teaches us to identity this type of experience as “habit energy”– an action or emotion we experience without intending to, something akin to an unconscious, almost instinctual response, a behavior we have learned.

One thing for certain is that these old wounds, these emotional scars will rise up and catch us off guard. It’s our job to identify them for what they are, to realize they remain nimble enough to swat us in the face with a truth we cannot ignore. That truth for me is self-love and self-forgiveness.

During this round of golf I came face to face with a part of my life that I had buried thirty-five years ago. My partner helped bring it back into view. It isn’t the winning and losing that matters to me. It is this game, this life. Living and learning, letting go, holding and releasing. And forgiving.

Sources: Hanh, Thich Nhat. Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child. Parallax Press, Berkeley, California. 2010.