What soccer can teach us about the mind
Life is a sport. We take winning and losing seriously, bound by rules society imposes upon us, and those we come up within the private realm of the mind. Along with these rules are goals. They are external, internal, collective, or individual. Winning or losing in the game of life matters only in our waking consciousness. Those rigid rules, call them religion, social customs, habits, conditionings all fall away when we sleep. Every day, it is a new game with the same old set of rules. However, there are no permanent winners or losers. All have equal opportunity to enjoy the game of life.
Life is a sport. All have equal opportunity to enjoy the game of life.
The mind broadly defines our lives. The mind can be cumbersome and serious, or light and full of laughter. Laughter opens up the inner world where our real wealth lies. Seriousness closes the door. Being serious about life involves setting rigid goals and matching ambitions. We can compare a goal-driven mind, which is a common occurrence, to the most popular sport on earth, soccer.
What can soccer teach us about the mind?
While the game is on, both players and spectators take the game very seriously. There is deep involvement, physically by the players on the field, and mentally by the spectators in attendance. Once the final whistle blows, it is over, and players shake hands and walk away.
However, in the mind, the game goes on night and day without a break. If we cannot achieve our goals during the daytime, we begin to think about it at nighttime, which creates restlessness in the mind and the consequent inability to fall asleep. We forget life is a game.
The mind is like a soccer ball.
We cannot easily kick around a deflated soccer ball. Similarly, the conscious mind cannot create goals to work towards unless there are thoughts. Too few thoughts and there is predominantly emptiness and silence. We may then see the futility of the endless pursuit of goals and ambitions. This may result in inner peace at the individual level, but we don’t fulfill our obligations to existence. That involves being fully involved in the world and trying to make it a better place. To this end, having a manageable set of long term goals is perfectly fine as it gives some direction and order to our daily living.
If there are too many thoughts packed close to one another, the mind becomes static again. There may not be any space for thoughts to move. When there is a continual crowd of thoughts in front of us, it obstructs the view of the vastness of the mind space, and in that ‘limited space,’ we cannot project goals and ambitions. Unlike silence and emptiness, which equates to inner freedom, a jam-packed mind full of thoughts is limiting and suffocating. We seek to escape such a mind.
When the mind has the right proportion of thoughts interspersed with emptiness, it makes it possible to set goals and determine the path towards them. In a game of soccer, the ball is in continual motion from the start of the game until the referee blows the final whistle. Similarly, once the mind becomes active at a young age, it does not stop its movement until we draw our last breath.
Once the mind becomes active at a young age, it does not stop its movement until we draw our last breath.
If we are in charge of the mind’s movements and activities, we can guide it towards productive ends. Imagine playing a game of soccer wherein there are no goalposts, and only the ball is kicked around. When there are no goals to work towards, the conscious mind becomes a meaningless ‘ball of energy.’
The two opposing teams fighting for possession of a soccer ball represent our likes and dislikes. Just as the objective of the game is to net as many goals as possible, the conscious mind tries to fulfill as many goals as possible. After reaching one goal, a new one pops us. Our likes have a collective goal, as do our dislikes. Both want to get our attention and take us towards the objects of our likes and dislikes. We may think by disliking something we move away from that object. But the act of thinking and manifesting a dislike brings us closer to the object.
Just as a soccer field has a set boundary, the mind also has its limits. The extent of individual perception defines the mind’s limitations. Our power of attention and awareness can only travel so far into the mind, but they can go further when directed outwards into the world, which also has its limits. We move from the inner boundary to the outer, collecting experiences.
As thoughts and experiences accumulate, the game in the mind becomes important and meaningful. Just as large stadiums full of spectators host the most important soccer games, the mind has a field of play, which is the conscious mind, and a ‘stadium full of spectators,’ which is the subconscious mind.
Spectators can only watch, and they cannot enter the field of play. Similarly, thoughts and memories in the subconscious mind cannot directly interact with ‘live thoughts’ in the conscious mind.
Every soccer field has a point in the center from which the game starts. Each time a goal is scored, the game pauses and resumes again from that center point. Similarly, the mind has a center point, and that center point is the sense of individuality or the ego. From there, the mind’s energy travels in various directions towards many goals. Every time we attain a set goal, the mind pauses briefly, and it begins to move again.
Every time we attain a set goal, the mind pauses briefly, and it begins to move again.
The referee represents our awareness. Just as the referee does not interfere with the game that is playing out on the field, but remains watchful and remains neutral, awareness in its pure state is always active and remains unattached. It follows the movement of the mind’s energy, which is kicked around by our likes and dislikes towards their corresponding goals. Awareness does not determine the outcome of the game of the mind. It remains neutral. Just as a referee blows the final whistle signaling the end of the game, when awareness fades as we fall asleep, the game playing out in the mind also halts.
During a game between two rival teams, there are many emotional upheavals, as each side moves closer to winning or losing. There are moments of intense celebration, or stress and worry. Everyone likes to be on the side that ultimately wins. But, one game of soccer does not determine or define the happiness or sorrow of the entire world.
In the end, it is just a game. The mind is no different. So what if one thought stream wins over another? If we remain neutral as the referee, holding onto the neutrality of awareness, we get the best of both worlds. Like the referee, we can watch the action from close up, yet be unaffected by the outcome.
In the larger picture of life, which we encounter when we leave the goal-driven conscious mind, what happens to an individual’s passions, dreams, aspirations, and goals have little bearing. But the ego won’t allow us to look at the bigger picture of existence. Under the influence of the ego, the mind goes through various phases.
In the larger picture of life, what happens to an individual’s passions, dreams, aspirations, and goals have little bearing.
First, it is an innocent play during early childhood. Then it gets competitive manifesting as peer pressure in young adulthood. The stakes of the game get higher during adult life.
When we take life very seriously, the mind becomes a do or die experience, and this results in tremendous levels of stress. In soccer, there is no such thing as ‘do or die.’ For the winner of one game, the next one could be a loss and vice versa.
We can apply the same principles to the mind and take it from a do or die state to one of innocent play. As long as we become aware of the limitations of the mind, and don’t make our individual goals larger than life itself, we can enjoy the mind and its energies just as we enjoy watching a game of soccer. In the end, there are no real winners or losers on the field of play. Players shake hands and leave the field, hoping for a better showing the next time around.
If we approach the mind from a place of awareness, we can relate to the mind in a spirit of sportsmanship.
The mind will try its best to move us from our center, which is awareness. We, in turn, try our best to remain centered away from the mind. One day the mind may win, and we forget our center, the place of awareness. The next day, we may be more centered, and the mind retreats.
Serious soccer players work on their game and their fitness to prevent injuries. In the game of life, injuries come in many ways. Whenever we feel sad, dejected, depressed, and lack ambition, we are ‘injured.’ These injuries may be minor or severe, some we may recover from quickly, and others may persist life-long.
Although we may not be able to make ourselves injury-proof, we can work on our mental fitness, skills, and strategy, so we give ourselves the best chance of enjoying the game of experiences playing out in the conscious mind. The fittest players in the game of life are the ones who maintain awareness through the day by being close to the field of thoughts, yet remaining separate.
A fundamental requirement for soccer players is developing the aerobic capacity to run for the duration of the game. The power of awareness, the ability to witness and become aware of the happenings of the mind represents the spiritual ‘aerobic capacity’ to keep up with the game playing out in the conscious mind. The fitter we are in this respect, through maintaining awareness, the more enjoyable the game of life will become.
Fitness is something to work on all the time. It does not come about during a game. It is a continual effort, and even a few days off from a fitness regimen can significantly set a player back. Similarly, awareness is something we must work on all the time, on or off the field of thoughts.
It may take many months to keep up with the pace of ideas and run with them without asking thoughts to ‘carry us.’ Just as the sun rises on its own and reaches a peak in the sky, awareness dawns on its own if we remain watchful, waiting patiently without expectation. Just as light is needed for a game of soccer, awareness is needed for the game of life to play out in the mind. By holding onto awareness, we become the light by which the mind plays every day.