November 15, 2010

What The Dalai Lama Taught Me About Football.

When the point of the game is actually having fun.

Saturday afternoon my boyfriend and I had time to kill, so we put on 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama. My boyfriend could really care less about yoga and spirituality, but he had found it on Pay Per View, had already watched it once, and wanted to share it with me.

10 Questions is a low budget but excellent history of the Dalai Lama, centered around one journalist’s opportunity to ask him 10 questions. As always, I was struck by the Dalai Lama’s ability to be gregarious and fun loving, even as he deals with a nation in perpetual crisis.

It was with this in the back of my mind that I showed up to play a game of touch football on Sunday afternoon. Our team was in the playoffs, the game was held on Roosevelt Island, a strip of land between Manhattan and Queens. We easily routed our first competitor and took to the field again for the championship game.

It was clear from the very first play that we were heavily outmatched. “I thought this was the casual league,” I thought peevishly as they executed a triple switch on the back end before lobbing it down the field and into the end zone.

They drove us steadily back with a series of gorgeous passes to team members who weaved and sprinted. It was actually a pretty sight, but still discouraging.

After they scored two touchdowns, I could feel my team’s spirit flagging. It was at that moment, while we wandered to the line to get set up for what everyone probably suspected was a fruitless attempt to get downfield, that I looked up at the sky and realized what a beautiful night it was. “Hey, it’s gorgeous out,” I said to my teammate Meg. I hadn’t even noticed the night fall, but there it was, all around us.

Meg paused and looked up to into the inky night sky and then across the river. “The view is beautiful from here too,” she said. The lights were on in the city, with gold boxes of light perforating the tall, dark apartment buildings.

Another teammate overheard us and said, “Yeah, this is really great playing under the lights like this out here.” We all took a deep breath of the crisp fall air.

And just like that, the seriousness of the game broke apart. The QB, Rich, started cracking jokes as I hiked the ball to him — I started laughing so hard that I all but stopped paying attention to the plays. Our other teammates caught the fever and started joking and laughing too. Even the ref got in on the fun, and finally the other team. “Oh my God, he’s smiling!” Rich called out, and the tall, earnest player facing us laughed. I talked to the girls on the other side between plays, even as they outmaneuvered me to catch the ball.

I think we collectively realized that it really didn’t matter who won. The prize money would go to a charity regardless, and we would just relish the chance to stretch our limbs, tight from sitting at desks five days a week, out in the unseasonably-warm night air, and away from the angry taxis and rush of Manhattan.

Don’t get me wrong, we lost big time. I think the score was around 40-6. (I stopped counting.) But if our goal was to have fun, we more than achieved it. After the game, we rested by the field while the other teams left, talking, laughing and sighing over the beautiful night and the fun we had. We didn’t want to leave and break the spell of camaraderie that had fallen over us.

It’s easy to get competitive and caught up in the tiny battles of the day. It was just a silly thing, a touch football game. But if you can’t lighten your heart for a football game, than when can you?

I think this quote that I found on Ele last night as I got home summed up the game quite nicely (thanks Waylon!):

Victory is not having to deal with an enemy at all.

It is the notion of no enemy.

The whole world is a friend.

~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Buddhist meditation teacher and founder of Shambhala, Vajradhatu, Naropa University

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