The relationship between sports and spirituality might seem like a herculean task to grasp at first. You don’t observe much spirituality at a cricket match where 13 players on the field engage in a battle and 50,000 spectators gesticulating at them, or a football match where 22 running around, chasing or protecting the ball and swear words thrown randomly and rather, fluently. In spite of that, there is a hidden, often important spiritual aspect to sport; the best of the lot are consciously aware of it, although they may not refer to it as spirituality.
Why do we play sports? One of the prime reasons might be, to experience spiritual well-being and to build up a positive self-esteem. What does being a sport mean? Simply put, it means that you are willing to play, willing to endure all the difficulties, willing to accept successes gracefully and defeats, with dignity. If there’s anything truly close to being in the moment, being spiritually aware of your existence, that is sports. Swami Vivekananda once said, “In kicking a ball or playing a game, you are much closer to the Divine than you will ever be in prayer.” You can always pray without participation, but can’t do so with a sport; participation is the key to life. Participation, nothing else. Sports makes us be in the moment, be in the here and the now, be focussed and connected with the environment of the game. It makes us aware that sometimes, we must learn to let go and let loose of ego’s reign over the game.
Indian chess legend Vishwanathan Anand said,”Just before a game, I try to keep a clear mind so that I can focus better. I’m the kind of person who plays fast and relies a lot on intuition, so being at peace with myself is vital.”
Whether this kind of state, or the fact that sports help you achieve a state of heightened spirituality is debatable because, in its most fundamental nature, the experience isn’t a transcendental or a trans-personal reality, maybe it’s just a base-level spirituality, the point where the experience begins. The proof of the heightened experience is usually stated by sportsmen themselves, when they constantly talk about being ‘In the Zone’ or ‘In the Flow’; it is nothing else but a heightened level of spirituality and optimism that fuels the body to do seemingly impossible tasks like child’s play.
Sports, is thus, a constant spiritual activity. For the people, who refrain to follow an actual spiritual path due to personal, religious or cultural reasons, engaging themselves in sports becomes significant because it just adds a spiritual dimension to their lives. It is in this adaptation and evolution that we learn to integrate spirituality into every activity, even if it be something seemingly non-spiritual like sports. As Bruce Lee puts it, “Be formless, shapeless — like water.”
Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.