Athletics: The New Asceticism Reflection #8: Beyond Mindfulness - The Unwanted and Noncommercial Solution

Written by:
Michael D. May

Another day I came across a saint in a cave. Excessive weeping had blinded him; his skin was all scales, the result of sanctity and uncleanliness. He gave me the advice that was both most correct and most frightening. When I weigh it in my mind my hair stands on end.

I bowed down, prostrated myself before the saint, and said, Holy ascetic, I have set out to find God. Show me the road.

There isnt any road, he answered me, beating his staff on the ground.

What is there, then I asked, seized with terror.

There is the abyss. Leap!

Abyss I screamed. Is that the way

Yes, the abyss. All roads lead to the earth; the abyss leads to God. Leap!

I cant father.

Then get married and forget your troubles, he said, and stretching forth his skeleton-like arm he motioned me to leave. - Brother Leo

(Kazantzakis, Nikos, St. Francis) 1

In one of my favorite Star Wars scenes Yoda, at an advanced age, is bent over and hobbling on his cane into the presence of Count Dooku. Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker lie unconscious on the floor having just been thrashed by the nasty Count. The future of everything rests upon this aging, decrepit, Jedi Master. Yoda summons The Force and his light sabre and begins doing all kinds of flips, gyrations, and physical gymnastics to save the day. As I, and millions of young movie goers, consider the power of The Force, we ask, Why not me How can I access this power too

This story of course is fiction but, as is true of any worthy metaphor, it is not. The story points to a deeper truth than literal explanation can reach.

Today there are many sports psychologists making lots of money helping athletes at all levels control their minds. Mind over matter, right! I appreciate this perspective. I spent several years engaged at the NCAA Division I level doing this myself (I missed the money part). There are also lots of deep people, or pretend deep people, selling the concept of mindfulness. I believe in mindfulness. It is a good thing. May we all nurture mindfulness. Yet..there is a deeper practice upon which I wish to reflect.

This deeper practice does not resonate much with the popular culture. It is also a practice for which it is difficult to figure out how to make money teaching it. This is because, among other things, we human beings are prone to resist practicing it. We dont much like the presuppositions upon which this practice is built; presuppositions that do not put our egos and personalities and self-development at the center of the universe. Yet, the greatest of athletes and the greatest of ascetics throughout history have based their fundamental posture toward wisdom and life upon this practice.

What is this practice

It is the practice of mindlessness!

Yes, mindlessness is just what you think it is. Mindlessness removes the center of our existence from this popular pursuit of brain science as the answer to all of the questions and problems of humanity. Mindlessness renders impotent the realm of the mind and its first cousin brain science as the way to finally make sense out of everything and control all the stuff in our lives that seems wacky.

So where does mindlessness take us

Mindlessness simply takes us out of the mind. Mindlessness delivers us to a much, much, much deeper place. This is The Deep Place to which the curriculum of Interior Mythos Journeys attempts to seduce us. Mindlessness is the practice of visiting the abyss. It is the practice of visiting the void. It is the practice of visiting the emptiness to which our friends from the East invite us to pay attention as we remove our focus from all the self-help books, human psychology, and our studies of mindfulness.


I am the worker of the abyss. I am the spectator of the abyss. I am both theory and practice. I am the law. Nothing beyond me exists. To see and accept the boundaries of the human mind without vain rebellion, and in these severe limitations to work ceaselessly without protestthis is where mans first duty lies.

- Nikos Kazantzakis 2


Great masters from all traditions have invited us into this very special empty place. It is the empty place from which all creation, all great thoughts, breakthroughs, and creativity emerge. It is the no-thing-ness upon which the totality of civilization stands. It is the Infinite Silence within which Ultimate Reality dwells now and forever. It is the mystery from which the experience of flow flows. It is the quantum realm where things come into being and go out of being simultaneously and The Force is ever present.

On the track, in the swimming pool, on the court, out on the field of play, wherever athletes find themselves, they will encounter their highest performance when, within themselves, they are able to surrender the temptation to center in the head. Instead, the Force-filled athlete finds an interior path into the Deep Place from which all extraordinary performance comes. Thoughtless action remains the place where we human beings act most fully, most completely, and most unimpeded by intellectual reflection. Such reflection has its place, but not in committed action.

Mindfulness puts a foot on the brake when we are executing some difficult physical or interior maneuver. Mindlessness takes our foot off of the brake and releases us to invest everything into the performance, becoming one with the action.

Ascetics throughout history and the greatest of athletes today know this special secret: To enhance performance, lose your mind!

May we practice finding our way to The Deep Place affirming always, The Force Is With You!

Go Deep!


1 Kazantzakis, Nikos, St. Francis, Touchstone Books, New York, NY, 1962, p xx.

2 Kazantzakis, Nikos, The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc.,

1960, p 48.


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