The answer is yes, very much so. I have always been an ardent sports player all my life and I was glued to the television both during the Olympics and the Paralympics. What was so particularly moving about the Paralympics was to see that that same urge for excellence and to be the best, is equally present in people with disabilities.
It also enabled us, the spectators, to see physically disadvantaged people in a whole new light and to no longer view them as being ‘less’ than us. As such, it has allowed us, the able-bodied, to remove the projections we often put upon them, as somehow being less than us.
In the early part of my life, I was a committed ski racer and I would experience enormous expansions of consciousness when I would do a downhill race, as it allowed me both to confront my fear, as well as offering me the opportunity to stretch myself to the edge of what I thought were my limits and try to go that bit further.
This is so important, as spiritual growth needs to include the body as well as our intellects and our emotions, and gone are the days where, if we wish to be a whole human being, we only focus on our ‘inner development’ and, as ‘skinny ascetics’, we leave our bodies behind. In fact, if we are to be able to handle the powerful new spiritual light that is now being made increasingly available to humanity, it is important that we have strong, well-trained and developed bodies, and today I see my bouts in the gym, my regular games of tennis and my early-morning jogs as being a very integral part of my spiritual practice.
Being fit draws so much ‘good energy’ into our systems.
In sport, unlike anywhere else, we are challenged to enter what in tennis is called ‘the zone’ and where our British Andy Murray no doubt was accessing when he recently played ‘out of his head’ to win the American Open tennis championships. To enter the zone is akin to states that advanced meditators are able to access. It is a place of calm surrender where we trust letting go to the flow and, as it were, allow ‘the force to be with us’. And to be able to enter such high places of awareness, we need to go through a body/mind training that is not dissimilar to what spiritual adepts aspiring for satori, also go through, where our heart selves take over and where we find ourselves accessing a higher dimensional energy presence that is simply not available to the ordinary man in the street.
I have a particular memory of a certain international ski race I did when I was still a teenager and knew nothing about mysticism, where although I was hitting speeds of over 60miles per hour, it seemed as if everything was happening in slow motion and that I had all the time in the world. I experienced no separation between myself, my skis, the snow and the sky and it felt as if it was not ‘me’ ( that is, my little ego me) that was doing the skiing, but rather that ‘I was somehow being ‘skied’ by a mysterious benevolent force that had somehow taken me over. It felt utterly ecstatic and I was hugely alive. The idea has consequently remained embedded in my heart that we are all capable of being so much more than this miserable ‘little us’ so obsessed with our struggling and how we feel people view us.
Some great athletes, like the extraordinary Dame Ellen McArthur who, sailing single-handedly, won the around the world boat race, has gone on to take her experiences of confronting and then moving beyond her fears ( it is pretty precarious sailing around the world alone, when confronted with huge waves and storms and one is all alone) to even greater heights. Realising that there are limitations if all our striving is solely to achieve personal excellence as an end in itself, she is now a committed eco warrior and environmental activist and has transformed her skills homed alone on the wide seas, to travelling the world lecturing to businesses on the environment and committing her life to ‘making a difference’.
Put simply, she decided to use her experiences to work on behalf of the planet. It seems that other Olympians such as the great gold-medal winners Mo Farrah and Jessica Ennis are following in her footsteps, with Mo dedicating his time and energy to help other Somalians who are not as fortunate as himself and Jessica trying to encourage children from disadvantaged backgrounds to take up sport – the realisation being that kids can convert their aggressive energies into positive channels. I also think of Andre Agassi, the great American tennis player, who has gone on and used his millions to set up schools all over America to help disadvantaged children.
If we can transform the desire to achieve personal excellence into the desire to work on behalf of a whole much greater than us, then we are truly touching into the deeper ‘soul’ of the sporting experience. It is my hope that many professional footballers who sometimes seem to get a little lost in their ego identities and all too often use their sporting prowess solely to proclaim their own magnificence, may also follow suit. So yes, if we use sport in the right way, it can be an enormously transformational and enriching experience at the very deepest level.