Sunday, February 14, 2010

Olympic Athletes as Spiritual Teachers

I am not a sports fan, but I love the Olympics. The ceremonies, the spectacle, the excitement; I love it all. But more than that, the reason I watch these Games is to be inspired.
I love hearing athletes describe their process of "thinking from the end." They talk about seeing themselves doing a tricky gymnastics move, or shaving a few seconds off their time in the last race. They focus on what they want to have happen, and let that vision draw them through to success. They don't let themselves get sucked into blaming and complaining. They are aware of their competition, but their attention is on their own performance and being the best version of themselves they can be. In fact, many seem to be competing with themselves more than anyone else. 

The physical and mental training necessary to be able to perform at this level brings with it self-mastery. I believe that's what Apolo Ohno meant when he said in an interview yesterday (and I am paraphrasing here) that, among other things, his training helps him deal with distractions so he can face and overcome his fears. 

To me, this kind of mental discipline is what spiritual practice is. It is a matter of holding to the vision of what can be and allowing the energy of "all that is" flow to it, regardless of the task at hand. As the Buddhist saying goes, "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood and carry water."

It has been said that every thought we think is a prayer. I am grateful for being reminded of this as I watch these young athletes.