Athletics: The New Asceticism - Reflection #2

Written by:
Michael D. May

The Danger Zone The Comfort Zone

Be always restless, unsatisfied, unconforming. Whenever a habit becomes convenient, smash it! The greatest sin of all is satisfaction

- Nikos Kazantzakis

Is it true that The meaning of life is consumption

Are we to believe that at the end of life The one with the most toys wins

One of the most popular lies of Western Civilization nurturing most of us into adulthood and of which we are reminded dozens or hundreds of times everyday is: Life is about consumption.

Life is about the consumption necessary to sustain comfort.

Consumption includes not just stuff and food and drink and smoke and sex and pleasure and entertainment but also relationships, family and friends (in the U.S. you need to pretend you believe this in order to run for public office), money, power, social status, experiences (When I retire I am going to travel and see the world.) and a thousand other consumables we will not attempt to explore here.

The rare ascetic in the human community knows the above to be a great lie.

Today there is another group, everyday athletes, who are also beginning to see this great lie for what it is. In this present moment, many athletes are discovering, or at least suspecting, there is more to life than the next sale at the mall, dining event, new Lexus, or other consumptive experience.

The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers

- M. Scott Peck

The Consumer Culture in which we dwell and that now spans the globe has multiple functions including the objective of delivering comfort to the human family. I like comfort. I support comfort. I personally prefer to be comfortable rather than uncomfortable. My heart does ache when I encounter those I love in pain, suffering, deprivation, or discomfort of any kind. This is as it should be and is part of the natural order of things. Comfort is good. Consumption is good. However, we error when we make personal comfort and the consumption sustaining it the meaning of our lives. We error when we make the quest for comfort the center of our lives.

The ascetic, and increasingly the serious athlete, knows that the essential meaning of life must be approached, discovered, explored, and practiced by a deeper path; the path of expenditure.

Life is not about consumption, but expenditure.

The question is finally not What am I getting from this walk on the planet but What am I giving

The Comfort Zone is the Danger Zone!

The Comfort Zone is the Danger Zone for only one reason: we fall asleep. Falling asleep is a problem because we miss something precious: our lives!

Do you exercise your quality life practice maintaining a comfort zone or pressing, expanding, and exploring the limits of your mental, physical, emotional, and relational boundaries
The most tangible and immediate place we encounter limit is with our bodies. If you are not certain this is true, securely pinch your nose while tightly shutting your mouth so no air can enter or escape. In a very short while you will begin an encounter with limit and Ultimate Mystery. Our bodies have this power to deliver us into an encounter with limit and Ultimate Reality.

I have never participated in a serious workout, race, or competition where at some point in the middle of the ordeal I didnt ask myself Why am I here or How did I get here I have never pushed myself to the edge of my physical athletic limits without hearing the interior voices encouraging me to Stop! Quit! Retire! Try something easier! Find an alternative path!

But, there is no other path.

It is only when we encounter limits that the possibility for choosing and discovering ourselves at a deeper level is presented. The body is an excellent pseudo limit available to each of us for moving into this deeper place. The body can serve as a gateway. This is the truth the ascetic has always known and the awakening reality being discovered by athletes in every village and community of the planet today.

Throughout history ascetics have fasted, deprived themselves of sleep, inflicted great pain and suffering upon their bodies, stretched in every manner with Yoga contortions, and endured other physical hardships for the sake of finding a path to and sustaining a connection with the Great Ontological Deep (GOD).

In our time, it has been my observation that the official institutionalized representatives of the Great Ontological Deep are often overweight, out-of-shape, and comfortable. They are not hungry.

So who is it today that climbs out on the edge exploring and pushing the limits of human life and daily encountering the mysterious unknown of the Great Ontological Deep It is the athlete.

Across the globe and in every age group there are those solitary beings who daily and voluntarily explore the limits and learn the lessons provided by the classroom of the physical body. These pilgrims of the current age seek to discover and connect in blissful union with something called flow.

Flow is that state of being we experience when we become so engrossed in an activity that our thoughts, emotions, physical actions, and environment all merge to become one reality. In this state of being time seems to disappear and we enter a special zone of timelessness. Performing athletes seek this zone.

Today institutionalized religion seems impotent to nurture this journey into a state of flow and connection with the Great Ontological Deep. However, this depth connection and personal experience happens daily and consistently on the track field, the volleyball court, in the swimming pool, running or cycling on the road, the tennis court, the gym, the weight room, and yes, still, upon the yoga mat.

The best moments usually occur when a persons body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile
. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.

Such experiences are not necessarily pleasant at the time they occur. ***

-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

My grandson, Christoph, celebrated his 1st birthday this week. Christoph is currently being indoctrinated by his parents and other adults as to various body parts with which he can identify: toe, ear, nose, mouth, feet, etc. He is beginning a journey by which he will inevitably come to identify himself as a me with his body. This is an important and necessary step on his journey into selfhood. However, if he does not continue the journey of identification of himself beyond the confines of a physical body, his depth journey will be stunted. The ascetic and the serious athlete (at any level) grasp this paradox. We use the body as a special gateway to move beyond the body.

Perhaps B.K.S. Iyengar the master Yoga teacher who recently died at age 96 said it best:

How can you know God if you dont know your big toe***

-B.K.S. Iyengar

So come on! Join Christoph and me on a journey beyond the body through the body.

The big toe is a worthy guide.

*Kazantzakis, Nikos, The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1960, p 68.

** Moriarity, Patrick, Daily Blog, September 1, 2014

*** Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Harper, New York, NY, 2008, p 3.

***** Iyengar, BKS, New York Times, Obituary, August 20, 2014

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