Spiritual Lessons From Sport

Even for non-sports fans, sports offers excellent examples of how people behave when they’re functioning from an enlightened perspective. The lesson I’ll present today surrounds my own city, Edmonton, Canada, and our hockey team, The Edmonton Oilers.

The context is that Edmonton got an NHL team at the end of the 70’s and within only five years that team began a run of 5 Stanley Cups. Frankly, it created very high expectations that have since proven quite painful. With one almost accidental exception, the team has floundered at the bottom of the entire league for twenty years.

The contrast between the two team histories had made Edmonton hockey fans a somber bunch. There wasn’t much to rally good thoughts around. Recently, into the vacuum created by seasons of finishing last, came a once-a-generation elite draft pick and a brilliant new coach and GM and the nicest arena in sports. Suddenly the team has gone from vastly underachieving to significantly overachieving.

An important part of the lesson is that normal is defined by whatever you’ve gotten used to. For a generation of Oilers fans losing was normal, so winning stood out like a sore thumb. It was sure easier to enjoy. If your team is dominant–as Edmonton was in the 80’s–then you couldn’t help but half-expect to win. And that is a recipe for disaster.

When you expect wins and they don’t come it’s painful. Likewise, expecting losses and getting wins feels especially good. Fortunately, that phenom player really is as good as they said he was, and so are the coach and GM, so in short order orange jerseys and t-shirts were selling like crazy to very, very happy fans who were suddenly forming more of an actual identity around the team, (now that the team finally had one).

Here’s another important part of the lesson: most people started off the year excited by the fact that we might make the playoffs for the first time in eleven years. And then boom. We beat the really good team we’re up against and we’re in the second round of the playoffs. It was Oilermania in Edmonton. Suddenly this previous source of anger and frustration and sadness has people feeling awesome, and how awesome depended entirely on all of that anger and frustration and sadness.

At public screenings of the game total strangers embraced after goals. They are now a family of fans. For good luck, there is now a First Nations drum circle done by Oiler fans prior to every game. I have witnessed people I know to have racist feelings about Natives, showing support for the Native drum circle. Stop and think about what’s happening in that person’s mind.

A guy has a very dim view of First Nations Canadians. This is innocently because of the part of the province he grew up in and some early programming from his parents, plus some unfortunate early experiences. So he’s always felt entirely justified. If he sees one of these guys as a Native then he’ll take a dim view of the very same person he will embrace if the guy’s beating a drum at an Oiler game! Think about that. The Native guy has multiple identities within the mind of the racist fan. And that racist opinion is so thin that it can be burst by an orange jersey. This is real bridge-building between cultures.

Even non-hockey fans got into these playoffs. They weren’t joining in the love of hockey. They were joining in on that wave of positive civic feelings. And why not? Why not make choices that help you feel connected and good? That’s how healthy, connected people do it. Once everyone was in a healthy state of mind, when the team finally lost something very interesting happened.

People think they’re not being successfully spiritual if they don’t dispel their expectations. It’s true, that’s a path to the path. But as I always say, you can’t have path without not-path, so that “wrong part” is actually equally important to your spirituality, hence yin and yang and the acceptance of suffering that the Eastern philosophies suggest. So yes, dispel your expectations, but don’t think you’re “outside” of spirituality if you have them. As long as you accept the teeter totter you’re on, you do get to trade your expectations for intense experiences.

In the end what happened was that everyone would have been happy if the team just made the playoffs at all, so this year everyone felt that the team had exceeded expectations. They were able to trade those exceeded expectations for very little pain when the team finally did lose in the third period of game seven of round two.

Yes, many fans were disappointed in that seventh game, many said so when interviewed. But to a person, they also said that it had been a wonderful year, they were proud of their team, proud to be a part of the fanbase, they’d made many friends and they lived in excited anticipation of next year. That is wonderful! They became voluntarily part of a family. They fell in love with the team and each other, and they’re hopeful. And for this year, they are literally happy about losing.

Of course, all of this will set up our expectations, so if we don’t make the playoffs next year people will be especially disappointed. I won’t have that expectation, just anticipation. So I’ll avoid the roller coaster. But I might join it for the playoffs, voluntarily. Why? Because it’s fun. And because, when it comes to true spirituality, even when you’re out you’re in. This is the yin and yang of life that we all must accept before we can live in peace. Here’s hoping this lesson helps you understand how that state of mind works. Have a great weekend everyone.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Turning Over

990-relax-and-succeed-being-on-a-spiritual-pathEveryone wants balance but to be perfectly in balance means that you’re also static. Life isn’t like that. Life moves. So rather than wanting balance we should seek balance. A student studying martial arts in a temple in Asia doesn’t stand on one foot and want balance, when the student loses balance it is immediately sought. Likewise, once the sensei sees that balance has been struck the student is intentionally pushed off balance and offered the chance to continue growth. The lesson is as much in the pushing as in the recovery.

In the example the student represents an individual consciousness and the teacher becomes the world. As you pass each grade you are given harder work. As you lift more weight you are given more weight to lift. As you get each promotion your responsibilities grow. When you’re single you learn to be together. When you’re a couple you learn to accommodate a family. When you’re older you learn to live with your partner in a house without kids. And of course eventually we must prepare to lose control of even our bodies and minds. This is how the sensi is like the world.

If we place this on a turning wheel it might be easier to grasp the notions of yin and yang. Rather than separate entities these are two parts of one entity, like the a wave has both a crest and trough but both things can only be experienced in unison. There is no border or line between yin and yang. This should be seen more like a pot of hot water mixed with a pot of cold water. Where they mix there is no line but they they are nevertheless two separate parts of one larger body (of water, in this case).

990-relax-and-succeed-good-judgment-comes-from-experienceNow let us turn our wheel into a clock. From 9:00 until noon is when you’re grasping a concept and then growing in your ability. Noon is when you crest in that ability and the wheel continues to move forward into your new future (a new relationship, job, financial situation, whatever), but now you’re unprepared and you can feel the wheel begin to sink. By 3:00 you’re now heading toward the ground fast, you’re upside down by 6:00 and it all just seems like it’s going to crush you.

Alas, at the base of our experience we render our old selves apart and we reconstitute our idea of our new self as stronger and more capable, and we begin a slow rise. We still feel upside down right up until 9:00 again, but at least things seem to be making more sense. But 9:00 we’re back on the rise and making use of all of the lessons we learned from 6:00 until 9:00, making those critically valuable times.

Of course your life is made of many wheels at once. Your relationship wheel, your work wheel, each friend has their own wheel, your health, your habits etc. etc. When we’d say our biorhythms are high we have many wheels rising. When we say we’re very down is when they all line up going the other direction. But most of our life is a mix, which is important, because it means there’s usually some area of life we can focus on where things are rising toward better feelings.

990-relax-and-succeed-when-there-is-great-doubtWhat people want is a wheel that’s had the 3:00 to 9:00 part removed, but that wheel wouldn’t turn very far. This is why acceptance is so important. We must come into life knowing that the teacher will push us off balance. Our job is not to stop the meddling teacher, our job is to recover balance. So there’s no life skill that saves you from trouble, but there is one that helps you rapidly recover your balance.

It is important to remember that you cannot even seek balance if you’re still complaining about it not being there. The complaint period is the descent from 3:00 to 6:00, but after 6:00 we’re accepting our situation or we’re acting to change it. That is the only way to move forward. Everything else is braking fear. It’s why so many people are stuck. They’re trying to avoid the bottom part of the circle of life, but without the bottom life cannot turn.

Look at each area of your life. Which wheels are rising and which are falling? Can you sense the resistance of your suffering? Can you feel where are you slowing yourself down by preventing your spin toward 6:00? Success is not avoiding 6:00, it’s to turn through it as smoothly and evenly as you would any other time. So it is to be in the flow, full of acceptance and moving forward.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

The Mobius Existence

Once you’re really good at knowing how to see through the illusion it’s fairly easy to see when other people still see it. They just say things that don’t make sense. You say to them, what colour is enlightenment and they confidently answer that it is… seven? No? Four!? No?

803 Relax and Succeed - Reality has no inside

When I’m teaching someone there’s this really fun moment about 6-10 hours into the procesas (in a few cases quicker) where they finally answer what colour is enlightenment? with less excitement than their previous guesses. Instead they sound like they just found the keys they were looking for in their own hand when they say something like purple! Which colour it is doesn’t matter to me–that’s up to them. But I know when I hear someone who has pulled back the curtain.

The other day I had a particularly excellent session with very compassionate, sensitive man who is facing the sort of decision which alters the direction of your life quite drastically. We all end up in these situations in life and none of us likes them. But it is possible to have a good attitude about that challenging time.

Like almost everyone, the main barrier I must overcome is this idea of some form of heaven or nirvana or state of enlightenment in which we somehow avoid the suffering associated with our current way of viewing our lives. But even after you know how to see clearly you still suffer, you just know how. Remember, the Buddha said the end of suffering is the acceptance that there will always be suffering.

803 Relax and Succeed - You carry heaven and hellThe reason my student can’t move forward is that he wants to take that step in the fictional land of no-suffering. So I must first dispel the existence of such a place and then demonstrate why that’s okay because the world is remarkably beautiful anyway.

Based on what he had told me I essentially asked him if he believed the universe was infinite. He felt confident it would be. I reminded him that if it is infinite it needs to contain all things, both those defined as good and those defined as bad. He didn’t love that idea but agreed it made a kind of yin and yang sense.

I asked him if he could imagine the universe as an undulating ocean of specific colours. Like a game of paisley tetris, different colours would move in the ocean like blobs of coloured ocean. I asked him to imagine that all of the feelings he was experiencing as his personal life, was in fact just a movement through that ocean.

803 Relax and Succeed - The source of all abundanceImagine a magical string that winds through every single experience in the universe before joining itself in a loop of infinite being. In reality there is no time and everyone is all one person. What we perceived as our life is in fact just a divine glow moving through a section on that infinite magical string.

Now imagine that the string is winding its way through a blob of one particular colour of the glowing ocean of light. The individual that is experiencing that colour might imagine itself as happy. When the glowing light on the ribbon wound through another colour the glowing light experienced fear, or another colour would be sadness, or compassion, but each individual lifetime is simply a narrative told to an individual sense of ourselves, by an individual sense of ourselves, as an entertaining explanation for what we’re feeling. It’s like when your dreams try to make sense of what’s actually happening to your body while you sleep.  You don’t interpret it the same way that you would if you were awake, and yet your explanation makes sense within the dream.

As weird as all that sounds, I knew my student was understanding me when he changed my metaphor. He suddenly stopped walking and said it wasn’t really a string. It was more like a giant infinite Mobius Loop–a never-ending surface. He added that, as the Mobius Strip wormed its way through the universe it would pass itself in the form of the people we meet. (Because we’re all one strip no one’s approval or lack of approval is personal.)

803 Relax and Succeed - It is better to conquer yourselfSo egos get upset because they perceive the strip has two different sides whereas the enlightened person will keep track of the fact that it’s a really just one long single-sided Mobius Loop!  And that was the moment he truly understood in a profound way what yin and yang really are. We just think something’s wrong when we see the “other” side of the strip when in fact the whole point of a Mobius Strip is that there is only one side!

Brilliant. He nailed it. Separate but united. There was no heaven to find, no place where there are no tough choices. There was where he was on the strip, and the compassion he could feel for everyone (including himself) in any situation because now he understood they were other faces of himself–they were ultimately all one and his job wasn’t how to figure out who was right and who was wrong–it was to accept the yin and yang of existence as viewed from an enlightened perspective.

We’ll spend a few sessions reinforcing his understanding of that discovery, but his door is now open. He can now tell the difference between his personal sense of reality and the larger truth that his reality sits within. He’ll still make some rookie mistakes implementing what he knows, but now he knows it. As long as he stays conscious of what he and his life really are–which is a collection of ultimately judgment-free experiences–then he will continue to become more and more aware of this greater truth. In doing so he will receive a peace far greater than the one he previously imagined would reside in heaven. All he needs to do now is practice what he knows.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organisations around the world.