July 23, 2024

Inner Peace: Finding the sound of serenity in a ka-pop

The Lithia Park pickleball courts are silent on a rainy day. But they can be a source of inner peace when alive with the pops, cheers and groans of a pickleball game. Douglas R. Smith photo
September 6, 2023

Meditation isn’t the only path to peace; we might even find it amid the pings and pops of a pickleball court in the park

By Richard Carey

Pop, pop, ka-pop, ka-pop, pop-pop, ka-pophuzzah!

Walking through Ashland’s Lithia Park, I know by these sounds that I’ve almost arrived at Ashland’s pickleball paradise. I’ve already pulled my paddle from my bag. Now in sight, above the courts, arcing yellow wiffle balls fly like popcorn out of an unlidded pan, and the pop-ka-pop sounds of dinks and lobs, volleys and slams, interspersed with cheers and groans, permeate the air.

Richard Carey

This particular day happens to herald the summer solstice, and as I prepare to enter the fray, I am consumed by the feeling that all’s right with the world. Any gloomy baggage I may have awakened with is quickly dispelled. No burdensome philosophical questions are pressing on me. I’m not thinking about politics, religion or mortality. In fact, as to the latter subject, I’m growing younger by the minute. I am young Douglas Spaulding, right out of the pages of Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine,” ecstatic in his new summer sneakers; likewise, my own new court shoes are infused with the magic of summer. It’s as if they want to run and jump on their own.

As I enter the court area, which do I anticipate the most? The greetings and smiles of friendly faces with friendly eyes? Or the coming battle in the strategic arena, the dynamics of a good spin shot? It is a mark of my ambivalent nature to love both. I believe it’s a genetic thing. Throughout my life, on various types of aptitude tests, I’ve always scored equally high on both left- and right-brained skills. This ability has its advantages, but it can also be a curse. I find poetry in the anomie of a neutron, yet I am onto its false equanimity, how its insides are pulled and jostled by quibbling quarks. I’ve learned that too much of this kind of chatter can draw polite yawns at parties.

In my own desultory quest, pickleball has reinforced my belief that inner peace can take more than one form and can be attained by different means, or paths. For example, consider meditation versus action. Meditation generally strives for detachment from material reality, whereas action requires focus on a targeted non-ethereal objective (in my case today, hitting the wiffle ball). The opposite of total detachment is pinpoint focus, and when sustained, either state can provide an interlude of serenity — in the one case, a state of clarity unbesmirched by bothersome thoughts, and in the other, the exquisite satisfaction of landing that dink shot perfectly in the kitchen corner. However, I must also acknowledge that whether gotten from meditation or an artful shot, the acquired serenity always proves to be fleeting.

The pickleball players in Ashland represent an authentic community, of all ages and genders, rich in both comradery and rivalry. When the games are on, no one is looking at their phones, not a tweeter in sight. Ages range from kids in their teens to kids in their 80s, and everywhere in between. And don’t be fooled by the appearance of the elders — they can do wicked things with their paddles. My own ego has taken a good spanking or two. No matter. The joy of the playground quickly renders the scraped knee insignificant, and tears are quickly brushed away and forgotten.

Long ago, there was an episode of “The Twilight Zone” eponymously titled “Kick the Can,” in which residents of a nursing home transform into children by engaging in a children’s game of the same name. I can personally testify that pickleball can have a similar effect. It certainly awakens the child in me, along with the joy of play. So put on your summer court shoes and come on down to the park. Everyone’s welcome. Give it a try.

Pop, pop, ka-pop, ka-pop, pop-pop, ka-pophuzzah!

Richard Carey lives in Ashland, and when not facilitating the Inner Peace column, spends most of his time studying the Zen of idleness and scribbling out the occasional poem.

Want to contribute? Send 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Richard Carey (

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