Is there such a thing as a Buddhist athlete or an award-winning monk?
See, I’m not what most would call an athlete, nor do I feel like I know enough to be considered a Buddhist. But as an active and outdoorsy person with an intense fascination for Zen and spiritual teachings I can say I have a certain amount of knowledge in both.
I have always been inclined toward individual sports such as running and yoga. As a writer and consummate traveler, these sort of activities suited my independent lifestyle because it gave me freedom. I was not subscribed to a particular schedule and I can do as I wish—whenever I wish.
I approached spots in a meditative way, and not at all competitive. The problem with that is that somehow I could never break out of my comfort zone. I hit a plateau and I wasn’t really progressing in any way. It became routine.
Then, on impulse, I joined a team.
A team was intimidating for me for so many reasons, mostly because I have never been in one before in my life. Somehow I was swept up in this frenzy of training, competitions and time trials. A new world of emotions came over me. Fear, excitement, anticipation and anxiety were among them. One does not know failure as well as when one finishes last in a race, and berated on having incorrect form.
I believe in the value of athleticism, I always have. I believe athleticism is humbling because it will confront you with your limitations, and how you deal with these limitations will shape and mold you as a person. As a newbie, the pressure to perform got to me. It became clear that such team sports needed a veritable form of commitment.
Athletes visualize, and push the limits. They go beyond what they feel and create new boundaries of physical strength within them. Most importantly, it will test your mental strength, to see what you’re willing to do, and how well you can discipline yourself.
Buddhism, in contrast, have always promoted non-attachment, acceptance and listening to your body.
How do I reconcile both ideas in my life and through my actions?
In athleticism, so much of your value is based on how many pushups you can do or how far you can run. These objective milestones measure our worth in that organism. How do we push ourselves to do better while at the same time kindly accepting ourselves for what we can do? How do we break new boundaries while being kind to ourselves? How do we not feel shame in a bad performance? Also, if the success of an athlete is gauged by competitions, then what are we without it? And most importantly: How can we avoid comparing ourselves to others?
These thoughts, paralyzed me. Buddhism and sports were both areas I have just begun to explore. I was beginning to think if that was even possible. Do I have to choose one mode of thinking over the other?
I don’t really have all the answers. But I can refer someone who has seamlessly exhibited and consolidated all these issues: Bruce Lee. He is a master, not only of movies but of movement and thought as well.
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” ~ Bruce Lee
I have come to believe the teachings of Buddhism can not only cohabitate with the values of athleticism, but can in fact improve it as well. In fact, I’m starting to think that removing attachment is perhaps the only sustainable way to approach athleticism. Removing attachment has two-tiered benefits: When we don’t perform well, we don’t have to be attached to the shame of doing so.
We don’t have to be attached to preconceived notions of my capacities, and thus we can push ourselves even further. It means being flexible with training, and resting when our body decides to do so. It means, most of all, gauging our progress in respect to our own journey, and not by forcing ourselves to fit into anyone else’s mold.
“In order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature” ~ Bruce Lee.
Author: Hannah Jo Uy
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
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