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A Buddhist Teacher’s Perspective To Donald Trump’s Presidency

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Trump’s presidential win left many people feeling let down by their fellow citizens. It came as a big surprise, particularly to many of the women of America, who saw a clear betrayal in the fact that not only did a woman not win the election, she was beat out by a someone who is perceived as a sexist womanizer.

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Aside from that aspect, I think most people were just left in shock. How could this man have become president? At the beginning many people, myself included, thought this whole thing was a practical joke at best. Toward the end, I was thinking that he was put there just to make Clinton look better. And then he won.

It left many feeling hopeless for the future. If someone like Trump can become President of the United States of America, then we are doomed, right? Well, maybe not. There are more perspectives on this situation. And if you believe that everything happens for a reason, then surely, there is more to Trump winning the election than meets the eye…

A company called Lion’s Roar, which publishes a magazine on Buddhist wisdom for today, decided to reach out to some Buddhist teachers and hear their perspectives on what Trump’s presidency really means for America. Below is what the various teachers had to say about this presidential election and what it means for us.

Pema Chödrön

“During difficult times like this, I’m feeling that the most important thing is our love for each other and remembering to express that and avoid the temptation to get caught in negative and aggressive thinking. Instead of polarizing, this is a chance to stay with the groundlessness. I’ve been meditating and getting in touch with a deep and profound sadness. It’s hard to stay with that much vulnerability but that’s what I’m doing. Groundlessness and tenderness and sadness have so much to teach us. I’m feeling that it’s a time to contact our hearts and to reach out and help in anyway we can.”

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Norman Fischer, Everyday Zen Foundation

“I usually don’t completely believe what I think, so when Trump won the election I was, like everyone else, surprised, but not that surprised. Bodhisattvas are committed to their practice, which means to sit, to get up, and to sweep the garden — the whole world, close in and far away — every day, no matter what. They have always done this, they always will. Good times, bad times, they keep on going just the same. Bodhisattvas play the long game. They have confidence in the power of goodness over time. And they know that dark times bring out the heroic in us.

For those older among us who hold liberal and progressive political views, let’s not forget we survived Nixon, Reagan, and Bush. It wasn’t pleasant but we survived. We will survive Trump. This is not to say that the policies of those presidents weren’t bad, and that they did not make any lasting impact. They were and they did. Still, we survived. We will survive Trump. As of today, we don’t really know what will happen under Trump because nothing he has said so far means much. He seems not to have much commitment to his own words.

We have been fortunate to have had eight years with a decent, intelligent, thoughtful and caring human being in the White House. This is more we would have expected. Lets not forget that the same people who elected Obama elected Trump.

It’s OK to freak out, grieve, and vent for a while. Holds each others’ hands. Then we can get back to work, as always, for the good.

Think of what the Dalai Lama has gone through in his lifetime. He maintains daily practice, he maintains kindness for everyone, though he has lost his country and his culture at the hands of a brutal regime. Yet he doesn’t hate the Chinese and finds redeeming features in them. He maintains his sense of humor. He has turned his tragedy into a teaching for the world.

Lets do the same.”

Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, Village Zendo

“We are all reeling from the election news. For most of us, it is unexpected and frightening. Naturally, we ask ourselves what teaching can support us and empower us at this time. I think of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion who “hears the sounds of the world.”

And I realize how vital it is for all of us to listen to all the sounds of this unhappy nation. What suffering has led to the anger and hatred that has arisen? And, why are so many of us surprised at this outpouring? Perhaps we have not been listening to the cries of the world with ears of wisdom and determination.

This we must do, listen carefully, and while listening, we must move with determination to organize, to mobilize, and to find new ways to create change in civil rights, climate change, media ethics, and to inform and enlighten all the people, so that we can in fact relieve suffering and care for this planet, these peoples, all of us.”

Noah Levine, Against The Stream

“Here in the United States of Samsara ignorance is the status quo. The Buddha’s teachings guide us to go “against the stream” to develop wisdom and compassion through our own direct actions. As the path encourages, “Even amongst those who hate, we live with love in our hearts. Even amongst those who are blinded by greed and confusion, we practice generosity, kindness and clear seeing.”
Meditate and Destroy!”

Ethan Nichtern, Shambhala Meditation Center of New York

“When I was a child in New York City, I used to imagine that I lived in an island off the coast of America which was neither part of the continent nor the country. In the middle of the night last night, that childhood fantasy came back to me, but it was only wishful thinking. In fact, the source of all this disruption hails from the same city, which is a great reminder that we are all connected. I am a citizen of the mainland United States and I remain a very proud and patriotic one.

Right now my mindfulness practice is dedicated to my many friends who are expressing such unbearable hurt and fear at the hatred and abuse which this current version of America has directed at them. My many friends who are women, People of Color, members of the LGBT community, immigrants, and non-Christians are all rightfully expressing their fear and traumas right now, and I want to especially be there for them.

Soon, perhaps, I will try to make contact with those I know who voted for this outcome and do my best to listen to their fears and desires as well. I have no idea how that will go but I will do my best.

I also feel at least some optimism that this outcome sharpens and clarifies where humanity stands in the 21st-century. All of us must come together with empathy and connection if we are going to survive this era.

Tomorrow I will try to follow the lead of those whose vision I trust to see how I can help move our world forward with compassion. But today, it is OK to grieve the fact that we have taken a massive emotional and spiritual step backwards. Please remember, the point of meditation is not to suppress your feelings. It is to make friends with yourself. On days like this, meditation is simply a way to remember a glimmer of your own basic goodness. Please remember it is OK to feel exactly what you feel.

In loving kindness and solidarity with the human race, Ethan.”

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Still Breathing Zen Meditation Center

“Today, after the 2016 elections in the U.S., we are living out the example of what happens when what goes unacknowledged surfaces and it feels like a new reality but you know in your heart it is not. To suffer based on expectations is to live haunted and hunted. But we are fortunate. There could be no other answer to our meditation and prayers in dissolving hatred than to be placed front and center with it and be exposed. When a shift in a system has occurred, especially one that causes fear and discomfort, it allows for something strikingly different to appear, furthering our evolution as people. We can only know where we are going when we get there.

Many of us have been practicing Buddha’s teachings or walking a spiritual journey forever and preparing for every moment of our existence. We are ready and have been waiting for this time. Our rage, pain, and anger are to be exposed if only for us to transform and mature with it. In Buddhist practice we say congratulations because now is the time we have been practicing for. No more just practicing the dance. We must now dance. And this is not a dress rehearsal.”

Roshi Joan Halifax, Abbot, Upaya Zen Center

“Standing at the edge of this election, it’s clear we have our work cut out for us. It is the work of love and wisdom in the face of the terrible suffering of war, environmental issues, racism, gender violence, and economic injustice. We have to work together to shift the tide toward what will benefit our children, the natural world, the future. Part of this means that we have to change the mind, move out of harsh negativity, eroding futility and fear, and build toward the good and the wise. We also have to work to shift the mood of the country and of the world through compassionate education, deep practice, and service to others.

Let’s reach through differences, listen deeply, and “give no fear.”

So please, stop and look deeply, and let’s work together in not building a contentious future, but a generative one. And let’s not pretend we know, but be open and learn; let’s bear witness to what is happening in our country, in our world, and take wise, compassionate, and courageous responsibility. Let’s reach through differences, listen deeply, and “give no fear.”

Here are the four great vows of the Bodhisattvas in community:

Creations are numberless, we vow to free them.

Delusions are inexhaustible, we vow to transform them.

Reality is Boundless, we vow to perceive it.

The awakened way is unsurpassable, we vow to embody it.

…. do not squander life!”

James Ishmael Ford, Boundless Way Zen

“I rather feel like I’ve awakened on the day after the apocalypse. As a member of the progressive community I am shocked and profoundly saddened by Trump’s campaign, which unapologetically appealed to fear of, if not outright hatred of pretty much all others. He casually insulted anyone not precisely like him, and frankly seemed to be little more than an incarnation of America’s Id. And, whatever I think of him and that campaign, while he in fact does not seem to have won a majority of America’s voters over, he did win the Electoral College and with that the election.

So, what now? I find a couple of emotions rising within my heart. One is to flee. I understand Canada’s immigration website crashed due to the number of visits to it last night. Of course that also represents all the privilege I bring along with being white and male and middle class. And beyond those immediate facts, I am cautioned by the Buddha’s “last temptation,” to take the peace and equanimity he found and to retire from the world. While he was a renunciant, he did not retire away from the world, but rather brought his monastic practice into the larger community, and continued to live and teach among people living in the world. The deeper point to this is that we are in fact made up of the world and there is no escape.

The other emotion racing over my heart has been to place blame, mostly on others, but also on myself. What would have been a better, or more skillful, simply put, more successful strategy? Who is responsible for this mess? And what shortcomings are at fault? These are in fact important things to consider, particularly those relevant to our own individual hearts, but to take a necessary step and make it what we’re about would be just one more mistake on a long list of mistakes. In this world we have to make decisions and some large percentage of them will be wrong. I’m ever mindful of our popular Western adaptation of something Eihei Dogen said, “one continuous mistake.”

So, what to do? What to do?

For me I find a couple of things are critical. One is to not forget my practice. Taking time and returning to the pillow is critical. For all sorts of reasons, but most of all to help me recall the fundamental matters of presence and intimacy.

The bottom line is recalling there is no separation.

Another is to recall all the suffering of the world. For me this starts with those who are terrorized by the event, the immigrant, the person of color, the GBLT person, women, everyone who seems themselves the target of Mr Trump’s campaign of purity. But, also, to recall the hurt and fear that led so many people to support him. To simply dismiss their emotions by cavalier broad struck condemnations, while it feels good, and I do like doing that, ultimately does no good. The Buddha was right in the great play of cause and effect we are all of us caught up in layer upon layer of grasping after things in flux.

For me the bottom line is recalling there is no separation. We have to act. There is no alternative. But, what will that action look like? More hate? More blame and condemnations? Or, can we genuinely recall there is in the last analysis no goal, but only the path? I think, feel, believe, if we can recall that last thing, we are all of us in this together, we are all of us, at the end, one; well, then ways through will appear.

We met the enemy and he is us. We met the friend and he is us. That is the secret that will win the ultimate victory.”

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

“On this cheerful unaffected glorious day of democracy playing itself out, I am as shocked as many of you are by the election results. But, as Americans, we must respect the democratic system that our country was built upon, and welcome its results. Trump has won, and now we must see what happens next. While firmly believing in, and defending, one’s values and principles, we must also give this new president-elect the benefit of the doubt, and be open to see what he and his new administration can do for the good of our country. We want to honor the voice of many and trust in the goodness of the country. We want to respect our differences and also believe that there is goodness in everyone. We cannot afford to fall into pessimism. We must continually see where we can unite and keep looking forward together as this new era unfolds, without fixed pre-concepts.”

Much Love

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Consciousness

Remember This When You Forget How ‘Powerful’ You Are

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    We all feel down at some point in our lives. Sometimes just a simple reminder of our true essence can bring everything into perspective, like the 28 quotes below.

  • Reflect On:

    Sometimes we simply need to change our perspective. If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Easier said than done, but what action steps are you taking to feel better?

We all feel down at some point in our lives, and some of us more than others. Sometimes we feel defeated, depressed, and unworthy. If you are anything like me, you may have spent a lot of time feeling broken, ashamed, and guilty, too. These are some of the most difficult emotions to feel about yourself.

This was at a time in my life, where, although I had woken up to a conscious understanding, and had learned about many spiritual concepts — how to overcome challenging experiences, the idea that everything happens for a reason, etc. — for the life of me, I could not implement this knowledge and understanding into my life. I felt as though there was actually something wrong with me, that maybe my mind worked differently, or maybe something in me was blocking me from progressing. I was trapped, and I felt truly broken. I compared myself to others around me and just thought they had it easier. I was stuck in this victim mentality.

There were, however, a few pieces of writing and wisdom that I had collected over the years that truly helped me through these hard times. A simple reminder of how powerful we truly are really touched me because, deep down, despite these low feelings, I knew that like everyone else, I was a part of source — everything that is, God, whatever you want to call it. Yes, I realized that I just I said am God, but it’s okay because so are you!

Sometimes just a simple reminder of our true essence can bring everything into perspective. I hope that you can find some solace in the following quotes when you are going through tough times, and don’t forget, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

  1. “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” — Hafiz
  2. “Within you is the light of a thousand suns.” – Robert Adams
  3. “A beautiful day begins with a beautiful mindset. When you wake up, take a second to realize what a privilege it is to be alive and be healthy. The moment you start acting like life is a blessing, I assure you it will start feeling like one. Time spent appreciating is time worth living.” — Anonymous
  4. “You’re so hard on yourself. Take a moment, sit back, marvel at your life;
    At the grief that softened you
    At the heartache that wizened you,
    At the suffering that strengthened you.
    Despite everything,
    You still grow.
    Be proud of this.” — Unknown
  5. “There is no reason to doubt yourself. If you know what your intentions are you will always give yourself guidance, and if you momentarily seem to get off track, which isn’t really even possible –then you will always allow yourself to know that there is something you will learn from it in a positive way and know that you haven’t really left the track at all. You have simply expanded the track wider.” – Bashar
  6. “Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life. Because you become what you believe.” – Oprah Winfrey
  7. “Change can be scary, but you know what’s scarier? Allowing fear to stop you from growing, evolving and progressing.” – Mandy Hale
  8. “We are travellers on a cosmic journey, stardust swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share this is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.” – Paulo Coelho
  9. “Tear off the mask. Your face is glorious.” – Rumi
  10. “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”
  11. “We are all made of stars.”– Moby
  12. “Don’t worry, don’t be afraid ever, because this is just a ride.” – Bill Hicks
  13. “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein
  14. “But without the darkness, we’d never see the stars.” —Anonymous
  15. “Do not feel lonely, the entire Universe is inside you.” – Rumi
  16. “A lot of the pain that we are dealing with are really only thoughts.” — Anonymous
  17. “Never compare your journey with anyone else’s. Your journey is YOUR journey, it’s not a competition.” — Anonymous
  18. “You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it.” — Anonymous
  19. “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.” – Eckhart Tolle
  20. “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” –Eckhart Tolle
  21. “The moment you have in your heart this extraordinary thing called love, and feel the depth, the delight, the ecstasy of it, you will discover that for you, the world is transformed.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
  22. “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman
  23. “You’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” –Louise Hay
  24. “Until you feel broken you don’t know what you’re made of. It gives you the ability to build yourself all over again, but stronger than ever.” – Melissa Molomo
  25. “The pain that you’ve been feeling can’t compare to the joy that’s coming.” – Romans 8:18
  26. “Every struggle in your life has shaped you into the person you are today. Be thankful for the hard times, they can only make you stronger.” – Pravinee Hurbungs
  27. “When you face difficult times, know that challenges are not sent to destroy you. They’re sent to promote, increase and strengthen you.” – Joel Osteen
  28. “Life has a way of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or having everything happen at once.” – Paulo Coelho

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Hologrpahic foil set on a dark 11" x 11" poster makes the moon's phases shimmer as light strikes them in this unique art piece.

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Consciousness

Retired American Bishop Believes The Church Invented Hell & Is In The “Control Business”

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Below is a video of Jon Shelby Spong, a retired American bishop of the Episcopal Church explaining that religion is a business and it is used as a control mechanism.

  • Reflect On:

    Is religion an invention of man used for sinister purposes? A form of brainwashing? Is there some truth within religion? Is that way it resonates with so many? Is religion different today from what it was many years ago?

Religion is a controversial topic, and I’d like to preface this article by saying that it is not my aim to belittle or diminish anyone’s beliefs. My problem is not with faith but with religion as an organization, which has been used as a means of control, to pit people against each other, and to incite terror and war. Religion in this context serves the purposes of many various global elitist agendas.

Religion is also confusing, to say the least; within several different religions exist different ‘sects,’ each with their own teachings and version of the ‘truth’ and how to live one’s life. Within Christianity alone, there are multiple versions of the Bible, and teachings that contradict one another. What one religion says in one part of the world may directly oppose what another says in a different part of the world. This alone is a recipe for feelings of confusion and isolation for anybody who is seeking ‘the truth.’ If various religions preach different ways of life and truths, they all can’t be correct, can they? I guess that’s why they call it faith.

Below is a video of Jon Shelby Spong, a retired American bishop of the Episcopal Church, discussing these problems. He argues that religion is a business and it is used as a control mechanism (and he’s not the first insider to do so). We can see this happening most clearly in the rise of Islamophobia. Islam has been turned into a scapegoat, a target at which we can direct all our fears and anger, and an excuse to invade other countries and create a more intense global national security state. But the truth is, Islam has nothing to do with violence or terrorism. These manufactured fears are all part and parcel of ‘false flag’ terrorism, which you can read more about here if you are unfamiliar with the concept.

In the video, Spong affirms that “religion is always in the control business, and that’s something people don’t really understand. It’s in the guilt producing control business.”

Every church I know claims that we are the true church, and they have some ultimate authority. . . . The idea that the truth of God can be bound in any human system by any human creed by any human book, is almost beyond imagination for me. God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu a Buddhist; all of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God.

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He is describing the difference between faith and religion. I myself have explored multiple religions, and have discovered teachings within all of them that deeply resonate with me. I’ve also found teachings that don’t resonate at all. I don’t believe one religion has all the answers.

Using fear to coax people into a certain way of life or belief system, just like the Bishop mentions above, seems to be common practice in nearly every religion, and that certainly doesn’t resonate with me.

The history of the church itself is problematic. Whether it be the church’s role in the First Nations Genocide here in Canada, or the European crusades, the church has a history of forcing their views upon others and of condemning science and new discoveries.

Furthermore, as the Bishop says above, people need to accept responsibility for the world. If we simply leave global change in the hands of God, we remove our own responsibility and agency in this world. If we want to change the world, WE have to do it. After the Paris terrorist attacks, the Dalai Lamai expressed this as well, arguing that it’s not enough to just pray. We must take responsibility for our planet.

We are also dealing with texts that are very old, and considering there are multiple versions of various texts, all of which have likely been manipulated, changed, and distorted over the years, I find it difficult to accept any one without question.

Another point that turns me away from religion is hypocrisy. Many people claim ties to their faith yet know very little about its tenets, and fail to follow what they claim to believe in. This is commonly seen within the ‘spiritual’ movement as well, which can be seen as another form of religion in itself.

When it comes to religion, I believe you have to do your own research; you have to read the books and examine the teachings for yourself. Use your own head and find what resonates with you instead of allowing yourself to be indoctrinated and letting someone else do your thinking for you. These texts are open to interpretation; it’s up to you to find meaning in them and apply it to your life. You can still believe in God and not be religious. Religion is a manmade construct, and I think if God were to suddenly appear somewhere, he or she would have no idea what religion even was.

Religions as organizations are going to have to change. New discoveries are constantly being made that are challenging long-held belief systems. We cannot grow if we refuse to have an open mind and accept new possibilities about the nature of reality, and it’s childish to hold on to old belief systems just because they are familiar.

I personally believe in the soul and other non-material phenomena, as well the idea that life does not end here on Earth, and I believe there is enough evidence in various forms, aside from my own intuition and gut feeling, to support this stance.

What about you? What do you believe? What it all boils down to, for me, is respect. We must learn to respect each other’s viewpoints about ‘what is.’ We need to work with each other and accept our differences so we can focus on helping the planet, our shared home.

“It’s a mark of an educated person to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it.”

What do you think about religion and what Spong is saying in this video?

Holographic 2020 Lunar Calendar

An art piece and lunar calendar all in one. This calendar features moon phases for every day of the month for the entirety of 2020.

Hologrpahic foil set on a dark 11" x 11" poster makes the moon's phases shimmer as light strikes them in this unique art piece.

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Consciousness

Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 23: The Competition)

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The following is a chapter from my book ‘Parables For The New Conversation.’ One chapter will be published every Sunday for 36 weeks here on Collective Evolution. (I would recommend you start with Chapter 1 if you haven’t already read it.) I hope my words are a source of enjoyment and inspiration for you, the reader. If perchance you would like to purchase a signed paperback copy of the book, you can do so on my production company website Pandora’s Box Office.

From the back cover: “Imagine a conversation that centers around possibility—the possibility that we can be more accepting of our own judgments, that we can find unity through our diversity, that we can shed the light of our love on the things we fear most. Imagine a conversation where our greatest polarities are coming together, a meeting place of East and West, of spirituality and materialism, of religion and science, where the stage is being set for a collective leap in consciousness more magnificent than any we have known in our history.

Now imagine that this conversation honors your uniqueness and frees you to speak from your heart, helping you to navigate your way more deliberately along your distinct path. Imagine that this conversation puts you squarely into the seat of creator—of your fortunes, your relationships, your life—thereby putting the fulfillment of your deepest personal desires well within your grasp.

‘Parables for the New Conversation’ is a spellbinding odyssey through metaphor and prose, personal sagas and historic events, where together author and reader explore the proposal that at its most profound level, life is about learning to consciously manifest the experiences we desire–and thus having fun. The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.”

23. The Competition

One morning a young boy and his older sister were fishing on a small stream that ran through the forest on the Western side of the island of Allandon when the branchless trunk of a fallen tree floated slowly by.

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“Look, a tree!” said the boy.

“So what?” replied the girl.

“So we can play ‘tip-over’!” he said.

“Ha! You’ve never beaten me at that. Why do you keep asking me?”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” started the boy in a tone mimicking the village crier, “we are now ready for the finals of the main event, the tip-over! Will the contestants please take their positions on the tree!”

“All right,” she said, “get ready to lose again.”

They waded into the shallow stream and got onto the tree trunk. As they slowly and stutteringly rose to a standing position, he continued his announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, the contestants are set. When one contestant falls in the water, the other will be declared the winner. Ready, steady, and go!”

The girl stood nonchalantly, trying to make it look as effortless as possible. But minutes started to go by, and he was also staying steady. She knew if she could get the tree spinning he would fall. He had always fallen. After a bit of effort she got it started, but this time he was spinning it right with her.

“Why aren’t you falling?” she asked.

“I’ve been practicing!” he replied.

She tried to reverse course and stop the tree trunk from spinning in the hopes it would put him off balance. Instead, she slipped and fell backwards into the stream while he remained on the tree trunk. “It’s over!” he said, and jumped into the water with an exuberant splash. He followed his sister out of the stream with arms raised, exclaiming, “He’s done it! He’s done it! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new world champion!”

“All right, enough,” she said, looking back at him with annoyance.

“What?” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever won!”

“Relax,” she said, “it’s just a game.”

Just a game?” asked the bemused young boy. “Do you mean there’s something else?”

My search for a more spiritual life after university, inspired by a growing interest in Eastern philosophy and practices, brought with it an unexpected byproduct: it compelled me to become more acutely aware of my highly competitive nature. Competitive soccer, for example, was a major part of my life. Doing activities that did not lead to ‘winning’ were still somewhat foreign to me. I remember the difficulty I had during my first ever yoga classes around that time. I’m not simply talking about the fact that I was preoccupied with holding my postures longer and stretching further than the middle-aged women around me; I’m referring to the internal clash of emotions I was feeling just as the postures and the rhythms of the yoga began to relax me. My mind kept conjuring up vivid images of battling on the soccer field and passionately celebrating victory with my teammates. Although I was convinced that yoga could bring me some much-needed peace of mind, I left those first few sessions feeling restless and even somewhat ill. I had a vague sense that doing yoga was a threat to my competitive instinct and lifestyle. And since I didn’t feel ready to give that up, I did not practice yoga again for over a decade.

In the back of my mind I imagined that being competitive was a phase that I would eventually grow out of as I matured. Some of my own experiences and the literature I had been reading seemed to support that. And yet today, even as I have returned to yoga, meditation and other holistic practices, I still have not been able to pull myself away from the lure of competing. Not only that, but I continue to follow some professional sports competitions with pointed interest. I realize there are more than enough things going on that should have turned me off of that whole scene, with the outrageous salaries and image-related endorsement contracts, performance-enhancing drug use, gambling, match-fixing, and other distractions. Yet I still sometimes find myself in front of the TV, captivated by the unfolding drama of my home team’s game or an important golf tournament. Sometimes when I am watching an event and my wife comes in, I will enjoy making a big production about the importance of the moment. “There’s only a minute left,” I will say, “he has to make this free throw,” or “this putt is so important.” She will often sit with me through the moment of truth to humor me, even though the drama usually has little impact on her. Of course I understand her perfectly. I would agree that in the grand scheme of things it really makes no difference for my life whether my team wins or not. In quiet moments after the final buzzer has sounded and the teams have left the floor, the thought will occasionally occur to me: Do I just need to grow up and get over all this?

For me this question has been more complicated than it might seem. At first blush, the desire to pit individuals against one another to see who is stronger, faster, and better appears to be the epitome of Ego-Self-motivated fulfillment. Indeed, it was during the emergence of the Ego Self at the dawn of Western Civilization that formalized competition first came into prominence with the inaugural Olympic Games in Ancient Greece in 774 B. C. However the Greeks had some noble reasons for initiating their Games, not the least of which was to facilitate the pursuit of areté, which was perhaps the most esteemed value of ancient Greek culture. Areté can be translated as ‘virtue,’ but actually means something closer to ‘being the best you can be,’ or ‘reaching your highest human potential.’

Looked at from this point of view, competition may in some cases hold value for our lives. Being the best we can be, striving to reach our potential, is who we actually are. And so the pursuit of areté is an exercise in being our true selves. Our true self is not the self that we outwardly identify with, the self of a name and job and habits and addictions. Our true self is the high water mark of self-actualization that we have achieved to date, and it is only when we consistently attempt to reach and surpass our high water mark do we gain the real sensation of being fully alive.

I think that beyond the commercialism and corruption, our competitive sports heroes can still inspire us towards this. They demonstrate that peak mental and physical performances result from commitment and dedication, courage and focus. If our heroes are to be of benefit to our lives, it is through the way they model grace under pressure, and a willingness to face and challenge their own fears to rise above and perform. Athletes can still exude a simple, almost childlike love for the game, and demonstrate unabashed joy when they individually or collectively overcome the greatest challenges of their sport.

There is a danger for us, however, if we always remain spectators, living vicariously through the achievements of professional athletes. We must recognize that the victory of our home team or sports idol is not really our own. Our joy is short-lived, a pale imitation of the feeling the victorious athlete says “cannot be put into words.” Our own euphoria is reserved for the times when we face the challenges that have our name on them, and lead ourselves to victory by our efforts. The more we focus our emotions on the exploits of others, the more we will shrink in fear when we get the opportunity to step onto the playing field ourselves. We will not be prepared and we will look for the comfort of the sidelines. The only thing is that, in life, there are no sidelines. We are always on the field of play, even when we’re just curled up in a ball trying to avoid all the action.

It is important for each one of us to determine whether or not competition is serving us in our lives. If winning has become everything, and we are willing to cheat to earn victory, then competition is no longer a context for reaching our highest potential. It only echoes the dog-eat-dog mentality rampant in our society where one person’s gain is always another’s loss. However, while the design of competition puts one of us against the other, I believe it can still give us the feeling that we are in this together. When we do it with an awareness that winning is not the only thing, competition can bind us to an unspoken understanding that we really play together in order to celebrate life. The famous saying that ‘It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game’ rings true—because in life it’s possible to play the game in a way that everybody wins.

While we may be in danger of taking the game of life too seriously, there is also a danger of not taking the game seriously enough, of playing it too safe and not really engaging in life. Remember Helen Keller’s words that ‘life is either a daring adventure or nothing.’ There is a fine line that we need to observe, because it is in the balance that life is fun. A common misconception is that a spiritual life demands we withdraw from the game. I believe a spiritual life urges us to walk that fine line, and play the game as though everything was at stake while being wholly detached from the outcome of our efforts.

We all cross both sides of that fine line throughout our lives, but in some magical moments we can get it just right. In one of his lectures, Wayne Dyer recounts a true story told by the father of a young boy with motor and learning disabilities when his son wanted to join a baseball game in progress.

 The boy’s father thought it was unlikely that the players, who were his son’s age, would let his son play. So he was pleasantly surprised when one of the players he asked actually consented, albeit hesitantly and a bit out of embarrassment, to let his son onto his team. The young player rationalized that that it was already the 8th inning and his team was losing badly, so the boy was given a glove to play outfield and was promised an at-bat in the 9th inning.

 His son’s team made a courageous comeback, however, and by the 9th inning they actually gave themselves a chance to win. They were only down by three runs and had the bases loaded. The only problem was that there were two outs and it was his son’s turn to bat. The father, who could appreciate the drama of the moment, highly doubted that the team would let his son go up to bat at this critical moment. After all, his son could not even hold the bat properly, let alone swing it. But to his surprise, he saw his son making his way timidly to the batter’s box.

The players could see right away that his son would not be able to get a hit, especially after he missed the first pitch clumsily. So one of his teammates came up behind him to help him hold the bat while the pitcher moved closer in order to lob the ball in softly. On the next pitch the two boys swung together and hit a weak ground ball to the pitcher. The father thought that the pitcher would easily throw his son out, and that would be the game.

That is when something remarkable started to happen. The pitcher instead hesitated for a moment, and then threw the ball high over the first baseman’s head and down the right field line. The young boy’s teammates started yelling to him, “Run to first! Run to first!” Never in his life had he run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide eyed and startled. By the time he rounded first base, the right fielder had the ball. The father knew that the outfielder could have thrown the ball to an infielder who would tag his son out, as he was running along the base path aimlessly. But the outfielder suddenly understood what the pitcher’s intentions were, so instead he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman’s head, as everyone yelled, “Run to second! Run to second!”

The father saw his son run towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. When his son reached second base, the opposing shortstop actually ran to him, gently turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, “Run to third!” As his son rounded third, the players from both teams gathered behind him screaming, “Run home! Run home!” Together they guided him home, and as soon as he stepped on home plate all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero, as he had just hit a grand slam and won the game for his team.

There is perhaps no greater feeling than when, focused as we get on a game that pits one against the other, we transcend our Ego Self to touch the world of unity beyond. But to have this experience, we need to chalk the foul lines, fasten the bases in place, and have a sturdy umpire behind the plate telling us to “Play ball!” The rules of the game provide the context for some of the most magical experiences in life.

In those moments when we feel the rules of the game are brutal and unfair, whether it be from having a loved one die, or losing our fortune, or being born with a disability, it is a good time to stop and reflect for a moment. When the totality of life is taken as a game, all of its difficulties can be seen as the challenges that make the game worth playing, where the emphasis falls on the experience of life rather than its outcome. The struggle towards self-actualization, the pursuit of areté, is no easy ride for any of us. But if we were really looking for an easy ride, we likely would not have come onto this field of play in the first place.

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