Athletics: The New Asceticism Reflection #6: The Practitioner Emerges..Finding the Deep Place Again

Written by:
Michael D. May

Arrive late to the race!

If you seek a transformational experience, stand at the Finish Line of a 26.2 mile running marathon or an Iron Man Triathlon, which adds an additional 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike race. Skip the first finishers and winners and hang around for the back of the pack to arrive. Watch the old and the overweight, the cancer and heart attack survivors, the recovering addicts and trying-to-get-in-shape folks, and the wheelchair participants. Watch them find their way across the Finish Line. If you look beneath the surface, you will see that the Finish Line is not the Finish Line; rather, it is a deep place within each participant, within each practitioner.

There is no theory here. Nothing abstract or intellectual here. There is no value in scholarly or academic commentary here. There is just real pain, real struggle, real personal limitation, and the real experience of transcendent triumph; a connection with an Infinite Center discovered within oneself.

It is one thing to talk about the race, it is another to race the race.

The ascetic is the antidote to the scholar and the academic. The ascetic is the one who puts truth into practice and does so in the most radical manifestation possible, ones own physical body. sees how hopeless it is to let the Truth be represented by speakers only. One single ascetic walking about among us preaches altogether differently than twenty such speakers. (1)

Sren Kierkegaard

A clever person cannot be a bodhisattva. We are aiming at something eternal, infinite, and absolute. (2)

Shohaku Okumura

The contemporary athlete existentially grasps something the ascetic masters have always known and promoted: transformative connection happens in the container of the body. It happens in the container of the body and nowhere else. The great wisdom traditions have correctly referred to the body temple. Since most contemporary folks dont have a clue about what a temple is, we need to seek some different poetry. Yet, this is where it happens. This is the place we connect with the Infinite Center; yet in a very finite and fleeting container.

As individual human beings, we are small and limited. But when we sit in this posture and let go of individuality, we are one with everything. We are infinite, absolute, part of the universe. (3)

Shohaku Okumura

Regarding matters of the deep today, commentators are everywhere. Belief and counter-belief are rampant, but practitioners are few. Yet, there are promising signs of the emergence of a new Age of Practitioners. Todays athlete holds such promise.

Our moment in history is characterized by the greatest academicians, intellectuals, theoreticians, and scholars of all time. These extraordinary minds are fueled by a cloud of cyber data encompassing the accumulated library of human knowledge. This wealth of knowledge is available to anyone anywhere in the world with an electronic receptor. The Cloud is raining torrents of data on us. We are smart. We are really smart!

But, mostly we are lost.

We have lost our center.

We have lost our center and no amount of information currently available, or that we human beings may discover or think up tomorrow, can reconnect us.

We have lost our center.

Athletes today, of all sizes, shapes, states of condition, and ages, are beginning to re-discover the path back to finding ones center; a path that necessarily journeys through ones own most personal body.

In the 13th Century, Dgen Zenji, in the exercise of zazen, explored the truth that practice and enlightenment are forever entangled. The posture, the breath, and the thoughts one seeks to still, all occur within and through the container of the physical body. Infinite connection happens in a finite body.

Today we are obsessed with human-centered psychology and releasing the potential of the self. Yet, centering upon the human ego self as a final destination is the dead end that has delivered our world into its current state.

Asceticism and athletics provide the exercises and practices by which I can encounter the limits of the body and then challenge them; stretch them, move beyond them, and potentially abolish them as that which defines me. In so doing, I challenge the notion that I am simply a body. I am not. I am much more. I am of something higher and deeper.

Self-negation, a cornerstone of most ascetic practices, is not a popular topic in our self-absorbed, human-centered, consumer driven, popular culture. Yet, self-negation has always been, and remains, central to the practice of an authentic journey of depth.

.there must come within us a dispossession of the self. The extraordinary experience of dying must become the ordinary experience of living. (4)

.. I am no longer the center of my existence. (5)

Fr. Richard Fragomeni, Ph.D.

Only those individuals centered in this deeper place can finally serve their neighbor or this world. Only these individuals have the personal detachment and interior space necessary to see clearly and do what is needed in a messy world deluded by 10,000 false centers. Those who have the detachment, even from themselves, can do the work to bring peace to our planet, feed the hungry, educate the illiterate, heal the sick, comfort the hurting, cloth the naked, shelter the homeless, clean up the environment, and serve the suffering of the human family.

If you are hungry, as I am, for a resurgence of practitioners of depth, join me at the Finish Line. Lets seek again that center awaiting us in the deep place.

Its not too late!



(1) Kierkegaard, Sren, Journals and Papers, Volume I, ed. and trans. Hong, Howard V. and Hong, Edna H., Bloomington, Indiana. Indiana University Press: 1967, p 316.

(2) Okumura, Shohaku, Living By Vow, Wisdom Publications, Sommerville MA, 2012. p 19.

(3) Okumura, Shohaku, Living By Vow, Wisdom Publications, Sommerville MA, 2012. p 49.

(4) Fragomeni, Richard N., Come to the Light, Continuum Publishing, New York, NY, 2000. p 31.

(5) Fragomeni, Richard N., Come to the Light, Continuum Publishing, New York, NY, 2000. p 73-74.


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