Athletics: The New Asceticism Reflection #4: Truth in Tension

Written by:
Michael D. May

Sport and religious practice both embrace ordeal in the service of illumination and freedom. By consciously transforming pain into delight, the athlete begins to awaken to the inner presence of which the world is not the master. *

- Michael Clarkson

The athlete and the ascetic both seek to escape the confinement of the world through the gateway of the body. They seek a deeper truth in tension; a truth unappreciated, dismissed, and avoided by our popular consumer culture.

Smoking cigarettes helps some to relax and release tension.

Chewing gum helps some to relax and release tension.

Taking a vacation helps some to relax and release tension.

Sex helps some to relax and release tension.

Alcohol, drugs, video games, watching TV, spending money, eating ice cream, and consuming distracting entertainment help some to relax and release tension.

Our contemporary popular culture pounds it into us that stress is bad, tension is bad, and invites us to find release through the above activities and 10,000 others not mentioned.

The truth ascetics have always grasped is being rediscovered today by athletes.

The athlete and the ascetic intentionally nurture the core truth human beings spend much life energy attempting to avoid: truth rests in tension. Conversely, true rest, true peace, is experienced only in tension.

Continuity and a sense of the universal come with the knowledge of the inevitable alternation of tension and relaxation in eternal rhythms of which each inhalation and exhalation constitutes one cycle, wave or vibration among the countless myriads which are the universe. **

Yehudi Menuhin

It is interesting to note that muscle tone is background tension within resting muscle tissue.*** How much alcohol do we consume and how much TV do we watch attempting to numb the background tension that physiologically is the epitome health

Many New Agers, Hippies, Woo-Woo folks, and human-centered idealists promote a life posture oriented toward a place of peace and rest and stress-free living beyond the universal state of tension we all encounter as our real lives. They seek a make-believe world somewhere beyond The Big Squeeze. ****

This peace-filled interior Utopia does not exist.

Only The Big Squeeze can deliver us to our real authentic lives. *****

To be clear, one may not connect with authentic peace and rest without engaging a journey. It is this journey, interior and exterior, consuming the attention of the conscious athlete or ascetic.

In full disclosure, I do some Yoga five days most weeks.

In full disclosure, I hate Yoga!

There is no authentic life without Yoga.

Yoga is one of the oldest continuously practiced disciplines of human beings to manage consciousness. The Yogi uses his/her body to connect with the Comprehensive One, the Great One of the Deep (G.O.D). Today, most of us are too smart to acknowledge the existence of the Great One of the Deep from the lofty perch in our head from which we view and judge all things. Many of us are alienated from our bodies and lost in our heads; mistakenly believing that life occurs by thinking about it. Yet, all thinking about it does, is remove us from the depth and flow of our real lives and most essential reality. Yoga can allow the practitioner to surrender to a deeper place, a truth in tension.

Tension is where Yoga happens.

It is in the midst of the stretch I discover my essential reality.

A posture is interiorly imaged and intended and then a pose is assumed.

Tension is where the posture is embraced; or better, where one is embraced by the posture. Tension is real. It is within the tension of the pose I may discover balance. It is within the tension of the pose I may learn to rest, to breathe, to find a peace that is not apart from the tension but a part of the tension. It is in this special place I seek to be present; I seek my home.

The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning to bind, join, attach and yoke, to direct and concentrate ones attention on, to use and apply. It also means union or communion. It is the true union of our will with the will of God. ****** B.K.S. Iyengar

Can the human family, can I, once again grasp and practice the truth that the instrument of the body is the vehicle, the classroom, within which, and only within which, I may connect with the All-That-Is

A lamp does not flicker in a place where no winds blow; so it is with a yogi, who controls his mind, intellect and self, being absorbed in the essential reality within. When the restlessness of the mind, intellect and self is stilled through the practice of Yoga, the yogi by grace within finds fulfillment. Then s/he knows the timeless joy, which is beyond the pale of the sense, which reason cannot grasp. S/he abides in this reality and moves not therefrom. S/he has found the treasure above all others. There is nothing higher than this. S/he who has achieved it, shall not be moved by the greatest sorrow. This is the real meaning of Yoga a deliverance from contact with pain and sorrow.*******

Sri Krishna (Bhagavad Gita)

Sometimes, just about always, the above consciousness is a little too much for me so I trick myself with a warm up. A warm up is a subtle way of coaxing the body into the tension of movement and exercise. Warms ups communicate to me that, this really isnt so hard or serious, in fact, this is easy! Warm ups are critical in every dimension of real life, because only the non-threatening nature of the warm up can deliver me into the intensity of the tension.

As I move delicately into the heart of the tension, I may discover my authentic balance and, more deeply, my reason for existence, my mission, and that-which-is-mine-to-do-today. The truth of my purpose in this world is discovered only as I surrender to the tension that is my real life.

Resting in the tension is learning to rest into the tension that is my life; being in my life, being present.

When I am present to my life and resting in the tension, I discover Fire! It is in this Fire I am transformed. The great secret is this: only my life can transform my life! It is only when I submit and surrender in docile obedience to my real actual life that the ever-present energetic phenomenon I am resonates and oscillates and vibrates within a transformative Fire that creates a new me out of the stuff that was idly waiting for something else to show up. Only my life can transform my life. And only my life can transform my life when and if I choose to be in it.

Life transforms life.

Learn to wait properly by letting go of yourself, leaving yourself and everything yours behind you so decisively that nothing more is left of you but a purposeless tension.

.The bamboo leaf bends lower and lower under the weight of snow. Suddenly the snow slips to the ground without the leaf having stirred. Stay like that at the point of highest tension until the shot falls from you. So, indeed, it is: when the tension is fulfilled, the shot must fall, it must fall from the archer like snow from a bamboo leaf, before s/he even thinks it.

Wait without purpose in the state of highest tension. *******

Master Kenzo Awa

It is time to practice my life. It is time to stretch. It is time to discover Fire.

It is time to do some Yoga.

I love Yoga!



* Clarkson, Michael, Competitive Fire, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 1999, p 160.

** Iyengar, B.K.S., Light on Yoga, Schocken Books, New York, NY, 1966/1979, p 11.

*** Mooney, Jean, Illustrated Dictionary of Podiatry and Foot Science, Elsevier Limited, 2009.

**** Greulich, Maryellen, The Ultimate Reality The Big Squeeze, Transparent Works, Bloomington,

IN, 2016.

***** Greulich, Maryellen, The Ultimate Reality The Big Squeeze, Transparent Works, Bloomington,

IN, 2016.

****** Iyengar, Light on Yoga, Schocken Books, New York, NY, 1966/1979, p 19.

******* Iyengar, Light on Yoga, Schocken Books, New York, NY, 1966/1979, p 19.

******** Herrigel, Eugen, Zen in the Art of Archery, Vintage Books, New York, NY, 1989. pp 32,48, 51.






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