The spirituality of sports

Take a moment with me to pity sporting events. They get very little respect from those who spend their days contemplating spiritual matters. Meditation, journaling, dancing or yoga make the grade for spiritual enrichment, but not sports. The idea that a person might experience transcendence during a sporting activity? Well, that receives a dismissive sniff. All too often, sports get shunted aside as “fun-but-hardly-spiritual.”

Let’s consider:
Activity: A man walks in the woods and feels at one with the trees around him.
Perception: He experiences the “All is One” of spirit.

Activity: A baseball player gets “In the zone,” slows down the ball and goes 4 for 4 at the plate.
Perception: She is swinging a hot bat.

Activity: A meditator focuses on her breath and stays present.
Perception: She is practising mindfulness and living the power of now.

Activity: A hockey goalie stays in the moment and performs well under the intense pressure of Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final.
Perception: He is mentally strong.

Activity: A dancer experiences transcendence induced by the music rhythm.
Perception: She is at one with God.

Activity: A tennis player experiences transcendence induced by the movement rhythm.
Perception: He maintains his focus.

Too bad. Athletes might not use the words “spirit” or “God” when participating in their sports, but they share similar experiences, and they reap the same benefits of those who do. Sports teach us about the human condition, relieve stress and depression, and awaken us to the message of life.

According to Psychology Today, Everyday Health and The Huffington Post, these are the benefits of spirituality. I put a check mark beside them for sports too.

  • Provides clarity and cultivates awareness (√ Check)
  • Lifts mood and prevents depression (√ Check)
  • Creates steadiness and grounding (√ Check)
  • Helps you see the big picture of life (√ Check)
  • Puts you in touch with your inner self (√ Check)
  • Keeps you in the moment (√ Check)
  • Gives “the assurance of practice being there for you at all times” (√ Check)
  • Boosts health and well-being (√ Check)
  • Restores a sense of purpose and boosts self-esteem (√ Check)
  • Relieves stress (√ Check)
  • Connects people with others (√ Check)
  • Promotes self-actualization (√ Check)
  • Builds lasting memories (√ Check)
  • Encourages participants to let go of the ego (√ Check)

Sports give us heroes that transcend the game: Lou Gehrig. Sports advance social change: Jackie Robinson. Sports shine a spotlight on big societal problems: When the Baltimore Orioles played to an empty stadium, it was a siren warning. “Something is seriously wrong, and something needs to change.”

From pick-up hockey games on frozen backyard rinks to the Olympic podium, sports teach us about life.

We learn:

  • You can be an instant hero and fall flat in the same game.
  • There are rules, and with good reason.
  • You can be the very best at something, and still lose.
  • Sometimes the difference between winning and losing is a millimetre or a hundredth of a second.
  • You can’t win them all.
  • Some days things work, and some days they don’t.
  • Things don’t always balance out.
  • On any given day, anything can happen.
  • You can make mistakes and still come back.
  • You need patience and endurance.
  • It humbles you. You never stop learning.
  • You cry, you get frustrated, and you celebrate.
  • You play it one day at a time.
  • “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” —Yogi Berra

Here’s a timely quote from a well-known athlete: “I always felt that my greatest asset was not my physical ability; it was my mental ability.” —Bruce Jenner.

Social change in action.

“The five Ss of sports training are: stamina, speed, strength, skill, and spirit; but the greatest of these is spirit.” —Ken Doherty
The spirit of skiing

The spirit of skiing

 

 

 

With an archer’s aim

9780425260791_0I am reading a most interesting book: The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language by Mark Forsyth. The title tells you all you need to know about the book. Forsyth takes his readers on a lovely jaunt on the intertwining trails and pathways—and dead-ends—of our continuously evolving language.

He clarifies misconceptions about some words and phrases. For example, according to Forsyth, Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin did not invent the guillotine, as is widely rumoured. When the family name got attached to the device, the Guillotins were so mortified, they changed their name.

He also gives the background of how words evolved into their present form. I’m a baseball fan, so I was interested to learn that an umpire began as the Latin non-par, for not on a par with the sport participants. It changed to a noumpere in Old French, and then at some point the N got moved over from the second word to the first and became an umpire. 

Huh. Interesting.

Forsyth’s description of the origins of the expression aim high caught my attention. I had always understood the expression to mean a person should set lofty goals and not settle for second best, but that’s not the case. He writes:

“The funny thing about archery is that you don’t usually aim at the target. Gravity decrees that if you aim straight at the blank, your arrow will hit somewhere below. So you point the arrow somewhere above the blank, and hope that this cancels out the effects of Newton’s troublesome invention. That’s why aim high is another archer’s term; it doesn’t mean you’ll end up high, or it’s not meant to. You aim high and hit on the level.”

His explanation is somewhat reassuring, isn’t it? Thinking metaphorically, the plain old “Aim high!” used as a self-help affirmation for the achievement of lofty goals doesn’t allow for the effect that forces beyond our control might have on our efforts. If we aim high, and if we keep our eye on the high goal, when we hit below that mark, we feel like failures.

But if we aim high with the understanding that outside forces will affect us, when we hit short of that mark, it’s not a failure at all. We hit exactly where we should be.

Aim high, with an archer’s aim. 

Drafting the Famous Five

“We take turns drafting as we make our way south, like cyclists in the Tour de France or geese, changing positions every ten minutes or so when the leader grows tired. I am surprised how much easier it is to follow someone else’s lead in those conditions, stepping where they step, trusting that they know at least something about the way we are going.” —Michael Yankoski in Mapping the Sacred Year

Michael Yankoski reflected on “drafting” when writing about a pilgrimage he made with friends. The walkers took turns leading into the wind, making the way easier for those who followed behind.

Pilgrims draft for each other, cyclists too, and geese. And so do we.

Famous Five monument, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

Famous Five monument, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

I’ve been drafting the Famous Five my whole life. Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards were five Canadian women who sought to have women declared “persons,” so that women could be appointed to our Senate.

On this date 87 years ago, April 24, 1928, Canada’s Supreme Court summarized its unanimous decision that women are NOT such persons: “. . .Understood to mean ‘Are women eligible for appointment to the Senate of Canada’ the question is answered in the negative.”

The women kept walking into the wind, drafting for each other, trusting that they knew at least something about they way they were going. One and a half years later, that ruling was overturned on October 18, 1929.

Thanks to them, I vote and own property. Heck, maybe someday I could even be in the Senate.

Then again, with everything that’s going on there these days, maybe not.

Nellie McClung: “Women are Persons” Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

 

 

The world’s first sun-heated home? Something to ponder on Earth Day Eve

worlds-first-sun-heated-homeA 1949 issue of LIFE included this article about a house in Massachusetts heated without any furnace at all.

The heat collectors at the top of the house were glass panels in front of metal plates. The sun’s heat waves went through the glass and heated the metal to a temperature as high as 150 degrees F.

Fans then blew the heat down through pipes storage cans filled with a sodium compound that soaked up and stored the heat.

Huh.

Why didn’t this catch on?

The article, written on the cusp of the 1950s, promised that the sun-warmed house “could be the beginning of a big reduction in the approximately $3.5 billion the U.S. pays annually for household fuel.” At the time, architect William Hamby predicted that solar heat would replace all other types of home heating within 10 years.

Or not.

In 1949 we didn’t foresee the oil crisis or believe that fuel resources would be finite. We didn’t foresee the environmental damage of fossil fuels. We didn’t foresee the number of human lives that would be lost because of wars that had the word “oil” at the bottom of the pile of reasons for their development. We were not nearly motivated enough to adapt.

Oh, scientists of today, how about now? Something to ponder on Earth Day Eve.

Canada: A gay summer colony

canada-ad-lifeOur language evolves.

In the May 31, 1948 edition of LIFE, an advertisement encouraged Americans to visit Canada during their summer vacation. “Come north,” the ad read, “to fun in the sun at gay summer colonies.”

The phrase has a slightly different inference now.

And our global relationships evolve.

In 1948, American visitors could “. . . go places and see things in interesting ‘foreign’ cities . . . No passport needed.”

Ah, the age of innocence.

The ad was placed by what was then the Canadian Government Travel Bureau of the Department of Trade and Commerce and signed by none other than the minister, the Rt. Hon. C.D. Howe.

So Americans, come on up. Have a gay time. It’s sunny here now (finally).

Reluctant spring

Our 2015 Ottawa spring has been reluctant indeed.

This past weekend we—at long last—enjoyed a warm, beer-on-the-front-porch kind of day. For the entire month of March and the first days of April, it felt like such days would never come. We sat in the sun and said, “Finally, spring is here.”

When I walk to the bus stop in the mornings now, birds sing. One cardinal calls out, and a cardinal friend responds. Smaller birds twitter. I imagine they are singing, “Finally, spring is here.”

Last night, we Canadians watched another of the sure signs of spring: the home opener of the Toronto Blue Jays. Like Charlie Brown, we have been lying with eyes open, tossing and turning, waiting. Like Charlie Brown, we know that when the day dawns baseball, finally, spring is here.

Peanuts-Charlie-Brown-baseball-sun-600x127

Our city has shrugged off its sluggish blanket of snow, awoken the birds and dawned baseball.

Finally.

(I give credit for the title of this post to Lee Ann Eckhardt Smith who used the phrase in a writing piece she completed at a workshop on the weekend.)

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