Athletics: The New Asceticism Reflection #5: Mystery Measured in Feet

Written by:
Michael D. May

The life I seek is..

Not a concept but an existence.

Not a belief but a practice.

Not an idea but an exercise.

Not a thought but a do.

Not a theory but a dance.

- Amanda Storywarrior (1)

What is the life I seek

Why am I here

What is my special purpose

What personally connects me with this moment in history

At age 14, sitting in a seminar at the Ecumenical Institute in Chicago a long,long time ago, the teacher at the front of the room asked the question,What grounds you in history

At that formative age, I did not fully grasp, or even slightly grasp, the natureof the question. Nor did I grasp that I would spend the next 50 yearsattempting to find my personal resolution. Today, much older, I have finallydiscovered the answer.

I have spent most of my life searching for a cause that was big enough toencompass my boundless passion, consuming interest, daily focus, andobsessive attention. I have considered eradicating poverty, eliminatinghunger, ending illiteracy, creating social justice, establishing world peace,and many other worthy causes.

I sought a cause; a cause that might justify my existence in this world; acause that might deliver purpose to my life; a cause bigger than myself; acause that might save me from a meaninglessness existence; a cause thatmight make sense of my life expenditure. The human community promotes asmorgasbord of meaning options for consideration: family, friends, romance,children, pets, money, power, politics, social status, education, career,influence, popularity, and 1000 forms of consumption.

Certainly there must be some human cause that might provide ultimatemeaning to my finite journey Over the decades, I have successfullyexperienced many great causes, institutions, and charismatic leaders. Eachfinite attempt to give some meaning ended in the same place: emptiness.

Today it is popular in the human family to be an environmentalist. Theenvironment, appropriately, is a meaningful and consuming cause for many,including me. However, it is not enough. It is not enough even though ourfailure to address this cause may result in our collective demise. Even thecause of saving the environment is incapable of satisfying the deeper hungerpre-programmed into the heart of every fully awakened being.

As an aging athlete and a relatively new tennis player, I was recentlysurprised while standing on the tennis court and listening to a high schoolcoach on the next court instructing his young student in the Great Secret ofthe game. I strained to overhear the instruction. Tennis is not about yourhands or your arms or your shoulders or your head or your wrist or yourcore. No. Tennis is about the feet!

This insight contradicted every intuitive thought about the game of tennis Iwas attempting to learn. To consider that this game played in the air wasactually about my feet was a radical concept. This awareness began ajourney I am yet exploring.

Hand speed is an asset, but ask any athlete and they will tell you, it isall about footwork.

- Sugar Ray Leonard (2)

If we extend this understanding of the feet as that which allows us to playthe game, we begin to grasp the deep insight of ascetics throughout history.

Ascetics have always understood it is through the body that the game of lifeis played. Yet, the game of life is not about the body. The body is thenecessary vehicle through which we might be delivered beyond the body.This insight is nonsense unless we are willing to search deeply into theparadox, and then it makes perfect sense.

As we move beyond the confines of the body through asceticism or athleticsplayed-in- depth, we can begin to touch the deep places. It is the body thatgrounds me in history, and specifically, it is the feet. Fifty years later I ambeginning to answer the question of what grounds me in history Andnow I know! It is my feet!

I have discovered that which at some level I have always known: I am aninfinite actuality. This is my truth. I am a synthesis of In-finite Reality andtime and space and physicality. I am an infinite actuality. This synthesis isrevealed through intimacy with My Primary Relationship.

My feet ground me in history.

Contemporary popular teachers of deep things often assist students bycreating awareness that breath can only happen in the present. Often thisinstruction occurs while the student is sitting on a cushion. Thus, byfocusing on the breath one might practice mindfulness and presence. Thiscertainly is true. However, it is perhaps a deeper exercise to practicefocusing ones attention on the feet. The feet can also only be in thepresent, only in the now. I cannot experience my feet as a past or futuretense; only right now. As well, the value of the feet is that they are a wholelot further from the head than the breath or the butt! And.these feet mightfind a path to serve the boundless suffering and messy finite needs of thehuman community. The feet rest upon the ground. The feet rest upon theEarth.

It is my feet that ground me in history!

Today the finite footprints of my feet explore an In-finite Shore.

It is this step, this step right now, that grounds me in actuality; that groundsme in history.

Are you massaging our Mother Earth every time your foot touchesher Are you planting seeds of joy and peace Peace is every step.

- Thich Nhat Hanh (3)

If I can infuse the Infinite into my walking in this world, everything I touchhas the possibility of transformation, because only the Infinite transforms. The finite cannot transform the finite. Only the Infinite finally givesmeaning to the finite struggle of human history.

I see the universe as an infinite number of patterns that whirl anddance around a still center. I imitate the celestial circular motionsand partake in a timeless cosmic dance. I experience reality as orderaround a center. I dance to find my centered still point. My dancegives meaning to life. - Jena Marcovicci (4)

(1) Storywarrior, Amanda, Kierkegaard Actuality Reflections, (unpublished) Interior Mythos Journeys,Bloomington, IN, 2016.

(2) YouTube Sketchers Commercial, 2016:

(3) Hanh, Thich Nhat, Peace Is Every Step, New York, NY, Bantam Books: 1992, p 91.

(4) Personalized Affirmation adapted from: Marcovicci, Jena, The Dance of Tennis, Richmond, MA,1986: p 11.

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