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.
..one 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)
A clever person cannot be a bodhisattva. We are aiming at something eternal, infinite, and absolute. (2)
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)
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.
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: https://www.youtube.com/watchv=jCqlQQZuXEA
(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.