“The elements of sport that I have just described are present in other transformative practices, but in the context of sports they evoke a greater range of physical abilities than are produced by any other family of disciplines. In the service of integral practices, they can, I believe, evoke a still greater range of capacities.” – Michael Murphy from Future of the Body
For quite some time, the worlds of sports and spirituality have remained largely separated, and in many instances, in opposition to one another. Sporting enthusiasts have harbored certain stereotypical points of view about those in the world of spirituality and vice versa. As we look at the very essence of both of these transformative practices, there is an emerging understanding that sports and spirituality are two souls drawing from the same well, and represent similar expressions of larger world views and shared themes.
Sports serve as the great Western metaphor, a showcase for the extraordinary, as both players and the viewing public bear witness to extraordinary human functioning and the evolution of our species. Athletes are breaking records at an unheard of pace, galvanizing the viewing public with gravity-defying feats and otherworldly displays of athleticism that have never been seen before and that take performance to the edge of life and death. Sports are a potent medium in which billions are awed by mind-bending displays of coordination, stamina, agility, concentration, fearlessness and other supernormal capacities. In short, we are living in a theater for the remarkable, which continues to grow right in front of our eyes.
To watch these Western siddhis (spiritual, paranormal, supernatural, or otherwise magical powers, abilities, and attainments that are the products of spiritual advancement) is to understand that there are many similarities between sports and spirituality. When athletes experience being in the present moment, time slowing down or standing still, they undergo a transformation of consciousness, having a unitive state of oneness with all and much more. These states of exhilaration sometimes include other paranormal phenomenon, such as ESP, intuition, synchronicity, déjà vu experiences, remote viewing, clairvoyance, clairsentience, telepathy and other forms of subtle energy of consciousness.
Much of this occurs in the rarefied air of the flow state, a magical and heightened level of awareness that is spoken of in many religions and wisdom/spiritual traditions. Entering into “the zone”, one of sport’s Holy Grails, is akin to a satori or enlightenment state. Examples are the runner’s high, hitting your second wind, states of grace and heightened emotional well-being. In spiritual practice, some of the pathways to accelerated forms of awareness and consciousness consist of similar practices: meditation, presence, chanting and breath work.
Those engaged in physical activity (sports, fitness, movement, dancing, walking, yoga or other forms of exercise) experience heightened levels of hormonal activity, adrenaline, dopamine, opio-peptoids and a variety of electrochemical charges, which translate into altered states of consciousness. This energetic cocktail produces effects that are not dissimilar to various religious and wisdom tradition rituals that create profound consciousness realizations and take practitioners into the world of the extraordinary. In both cases, history has recorded remarkable feats of human functioning.
New sports-oriented practices have emerged through meditation, reverie and contemplation, visualization techniques, centering and awareness practices, and collective consciousness encounters. These practices are intended to be somatic, mind/body approaches that foster emotional resilience, mental clarity, physical agility and much more. Now, top level coaches such as Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks, Phil Jackson, and others are bringing visualization techniques and contemplative practice to their cutting-edge training methods. There is an evolving embrace of the integral approach for both individual and team efforts. The simultaneous embrace of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual practices are producing peak performance for top athletes.
It is interesting that a statistically significant number of athletes have entered the world of spirituality as both teachers and practitioners. Their background in sports have provided them with experiences of extraordinary states of consciousness, as well as long-term training. Spirituality has given a language to these altered states and a frame of reference for the athlete. These two disciplines also offer an understanding of the importance of consistent, long-term practice.
When held from the integral perspective, these two complementary worlds can inform each other about new vistas, new worldviews, and experiential, transformative practices that allow individuals and groups such as teams, communities and sanghas to appreciate each other and join in the path towards growth and realization together. May they both drink from the same well.
Barry Robbins is a founding member of the Sports, Energy, and Consciousness Group. If you have ever wondered what the future of athletic performance and coaching will look like, join them at the first ever Sports, Energy, and Consciousness Festival (including a presentation from our Director of Education, Katia Petersen). This weekend celebration combines cognitive, somatic, psychological, energetic and consciousness training into everyday take-home practices that will harness the power of your true athletic ability. This experiential offering is for recreational athletes, individuals who wish to realize their latent abilities, competitive players, and coaches and trainers interested in taking their teaching to the next level.