Sports can be a transformative practice that teaches men to engage body, mind, and spirit.
One day a year, we reflect on the state of our planet and take steps to heal the wounds that we have inflicted. It’s also a time to heal ourselves, since we humans are an integral part of Gaia. April 22, 2016 is the day we celebrate life on Earth. For me it’s also a day to reflect on life and sports.
From the time I was in junior high, I loved playing basketball. Sports was my way of connecting with others, of engaging a practice that I could never master, but could get better playing. After school, I would spend hours shooting hoops, alone or with other kids in the neighborhood. Now, I watch the Golden State Warriors try to repeat as World Champions.
I’m guessing that most people don’t think of Earth Day and sports together, but they are linked for me in my growing up years in southern California. During the 1950s and 1960s, there was very little attention to the environment. In post-war America, we were focused on growth, of building more freeways so people could live in suburbia, and riding an expanding economy ever upwards.
But change was coming and many of us first saw it following the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, in which she highlighted the dangers of DDT and its effects on bird populations. The book created a sensation of awareness and ultimately DDT was outlawed and bird populations began a comeback. The environmental movement was born in those days. These were also the days that I played basketball in high school with an unlikely, soon to be superstar named Gail Goodrich, who went on to star at U.C.L.A. and the Los Angeles Lakers.
I went on to graduate school, first in social work, and later getting Ph.D. in International Health. I was interested in the relationship between personal health and planetary healing. Once again, I found a way to integrate the two in a sports context. Living in Marin county in the 1970s, I joined the Aikido of Tamalpais dojo and began learning from masters like George Leonard, Richard Heckler, and Wendy Palmer, along with Terry Dobson.
I initially got involved because I felt I needed a physical practice to balance out all the mental activity I was doing in my therapy practice and writing my first books. But, I was also out of balance with my life, feeling alternately manic and depressed and beginning to have problems with irregular heart rhythms. In Aikido, I found a way “get out of my head” and get more connected to my body.
Although Aikido is a superb martial art, it’s much more than that. It teaches us to see our partner on the mat, not as an adversary, but as someone whose attacks help us hone our skills. In order to be successful, we first have to blend with their energy, for a brief moment to see the world as they see it, then to resolve the attack in a way that protects all concerned.
To expand the way we could use what we learned in the dojo to real life, George Leonard started a class on “energy awareness.” He took the principles of Aikido and helped us get in touch with the energy essence at the core. For me, it was more difficult to slow down enough to tune into the subtle energies of interaction than the more physical energies involved in learned the techniques associated with Aikido.
In one of the exercises, we were blind folded, spun around to disorient us, and then we were asked to try and orient ourselves to “magnetic north.” He suggested that we could learn to tune into the magnetic energy of the earth and feel the subtle energy that would allow us to “point north.” Birds do it on long flights, so why not humans. We would practice feeling and then take off the blind fold to see how we did. Surprisingly, most people eventually were able to find magnetic north blindfolded. For some reason, I could align myself, but I was always 180 degrees off. My butt always pointed north, but the front of me pointed south. I still seem to do a lot of things “ass backwards.”
Another exercise we did blindfolded was to have a partner stand behind us and either grab an arm accompanied by a loud shout to scare us or they would give us a gentle hug. The exercise, as George described it, was “to teach us to be in the present moment, to act appropriately to every situation.” He went on to remind us “You don’t want to throw your grandmother to the mat, but you don’t want to melt into the arms of someone who is trying to rob you.”
I’m transported back to those days as I listen to my friend Barry Robbins talk about sports as a transformative practice. Barry is the Vice President of Integral Transformative Practice (ITP) International and senior teacher and lineage holder of ITP, co-founded by human potential visionaries George Leonard and Michael Murphy. He and his colleagues are putting on the first ever Sports, Energy, and Consciousness Festival: Awakening Human Potential Through Sport, June 10-12, 2016, in San Rafael, California.
In addition to Barry, the festival will have keynote talks by Michael Murphy, founder of the Esalen Institute and Ken Wilber, author and founder of the Integral Institute. The festival master of ceremonies is Rick Leskowitz, M.D., an integrative psychiatrist educated at Harvard Medical School and presently Director of Integrative Medicine.
This isn’t going to be your typical conference Barry told me. It will be a hands-on, body and soul engaging, experience for everyone from professional athletes to people like me who just love sports and want to stay healthy in body, mind, and spirt. There will be focused workshops on:
- Getting in the zone and staying there.
- Evoking higher states of being through sports.
- Being present and mindful in competition.
- Creating peak performance states at will.
- Team chemistry and fan energy.
The sponsoring organization, The Sports Energy and Conscious Group (SEC) is an integrated collective of doctors, psychologists, scientists, world-class athletes, and leading-edge coaches. You can learn more them at their website http://sportsenergygroup.com/. Check it out and come join us in June. This is a great time to heal our connection to ourselves, each other, and this wonderful planet we all share.
Originally Published on MenAlive.com