Hail Mary! Sports is Spiritual. [Sharma, Jordan, Magic, Bird, Babe, Dr. Joseph Parent: Zen of Golf]

Via Waylon Lewis
on Jan 4, 2009
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When you are completely mindful in the present moment, mind and body are synchronized. Here, synchronizing mind and body is connected with developing fearlessness, in the sense of being accurate and direct in relating to the phenomenal world.

~ Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Shambhala

What’s the difference between being good at a sport, and being great? I asked this question of golden boy of climbing Chris Sharma, some months ago.

What’s the difference between winning and winning sometimes? It’s not physical, merely—anyone who watches the NBA (where everyone’s incredibly fit, as fit as Michael Jordan, and yet where some are far better than others) or Baseball (where some of the best have potbellies and gangly arms) knows that half of sports is in the mind.

My friend Dr. Joseph Parent has taught this for years, in the arena of golf (see videos below)

The Bulls of the Jordan era practiced meditation, a bit, and Coach Phil Jackson (who authored Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior, no less!) was a confirmed Zen-head.

It’s many a football player who, scoring a touchdown, offers thanks to his God—and while I thing God might got more important things to do than root for one team or the other, being in harmony with the present moment, and the universe, has gotta help one connect with a ball, y’know?

Anyone who plays pool, or swims in a pool, knows the mental game is half the battle. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, an American Buddhist guru who runs marathons, weightlifts and golfs, is inclined to agree.

Buddhism, which I grew up with, is all about synchronizing body and mind. What happens when your mind and body are in two different places—you’re walking down the street, say, but thinking about how your girlfriend yelled at you—is painfully magnified under the pressure of sports, when your body is far more active, and the pressure far greater. We all know that Jordan, or Magic, or Babe Ruth, or any great clutch player could somehow focus when they had to, and pull off miracles (see first few below vids) unknown to we mortals.

So I put this question to you, America: if meditation helps synchronize body and mind, could success in sports be encouraged by meditation?

You can see that awareness played a great part in Magic Johnson’s groundbreaking passing game:

Chogyam Trungpa defined enlightenment as when body and mind are fully synchronized. In sports, it’s a temporary state called “the zone.” What can the human body do, when synched with the heart and guts and mind?

Time and again, fourth quarter, Jordan flipped a switch in his brain and went from great to the best:

Infamously not buff and agile, Bird was all leadership, savvy, guts—a mental champion:

Top 10 Larry in the Clutch…fugghetaboudit, that’s what Greatness is made of:

Babe Ruth, despite his infamous paunch, was far and away better than any player of his day, or any player in history. Something was special about him:

Bonus, one of my fave movies of 2000, The Cup:


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


10 Responses to “Hail Mary! Sports is Spiritual. [Sharma, Jordan, Magic, Bird, Babe, Dr. Joseph Parent: Zen of Golf]”

  1. Francesca Reed says:

    Wonderful videos…so great to see Magic and Larry and MJ (and hear Eminem) again. Did Kelly Foy win the Santa Barbara tournament? Thank you!

  2. ACFRI says:

    Thank you for drawing attention to the relationship between mindfulness and golf. When I think of the best round I ever played, I remember that I wasn't thinking during the whole round. I stayed present in every shot and concentrated on feel. I feel that the game is largely mental because it's really just you competing against you. You need to not be aggressive towards yourself. The more you approach each shot gently, the more you succeed, imo.

  3. I wrote this about that on my website:

    "I am a serious tennis player. You might recall that all this Yoga stuff started for me when I took Hatha Yoga classes to improve my flexibility for tennis. Yoga was great for this. I did become much more flexible and it did improve my tennis.

    What happened next was unexpected. I found that the philosophical practices of Yoga, especially focusing on the present moment, and detaching my ego from the results, had a far more beneficial impact on my tennis than the flexibility. The Yoga of the mind had a bigger effect on my tennis performance than the Yoga of the body."

  4. Plus this poem called "Yoga Tennis":

    Yoga has transformed my tennis

    Like it has transformed everything else.

    From the Yoga Sutra

    I learned to focus on the ball

    With single-pointed concentration

    To the exclusion of all distractions.

    From the Bhagavad Gita

    I learned to play hard

    Like Arjuna the Warrior

    While detaching my ego from the results.

    From the Upanishads

    I learned cosmic exultation

    That all these diverse molecules

    Can do all these wondrous things together.

    I no longer throw my racket

    When I miss an easy shot.

    I no longer stay depressed for days

    After losing a tough match.

    The only problem is

    Today I was beaten badly

    Because I was distracted

    Writing this poem in my head

    While I played.

    Bob Weisenberg

  5. […] spiritual traditions forget the body and focus on the mind and heart. Not Ken Wilber, Integral Philosopher. Not Sakyong Mipham, the […]

  6. elephantjournal says:

    Diane D: I give my best massage when I'm in "the zone"

    Paul L: What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player.
    John Wooden

    Barbara B: Sailing puts me in the zone. You cannot be anywhere else, except watching the wind. sky and sails.

  7. […] Click here for crazy videos: Hail Mary! Sports is Spiritual, Part I. […]

  8. […] difference between being a loser and a world champion is counted in 1/100s of a […]

  9. […] Huck Finn, Tintin), baseball (Dave Winfield, Lou Gehrig), Buddhism (Trungpa), through basketball (Magic), etc. And, through the movies, some were bad boys—like Errol Flynn or Toshiro Mifune—but they […]