The Zen of Sport

I am a kitesurfer. That is to say, I spend as much time as I can skimming across a body of water on a small board with a large kite high in the air above me. When I am out there, I am absolutely focused on the elements that are making this happen, feeling every little shift of the wind. I am responding instantaneously to the messages I receive through my harness, with tiny movements of my arms or minute changes of my weight on the board. All my day-to-day worries fall away as I dance across the water. I know what is important, and it’s not my day job, so to speak.

I am a kitesurfer

“I am a kitesurfer.”

Besides being a kitesurfer, I am ordained as a Minister of Holistic Healing, and a spiritual mentor, teaching shamanic methods of spirit journeying.  Even when I get caught up in the daily tensions that hound so many of us, I’m sustained by a sense of myself as a being of spirit. I think I’m right in saying that this is what people are referring to when they use the word spirituality, although they commonly attribute the presence of spirit to something outside of themselves, which they then call God.

So where do these two meet, spirituality and kitesurfing? Many of the spiritually active people I know think that sport is a fool’s pastime, and that sport fanatics are egocentric and spiritually destitute. Many of my non-spiritual friends believe that people who describe themselves as spiritual are self-righteous weirdos, who spend all their spare time doing good works. They certainly aren’t kitesurfing at every possible opportunity.

I, on the other hand, feel that kitesurfing is the most spiritual activity I participate in. One of my most basic beliefs is that we are all beings of spirit, choosing human form. We are not here to escape the human form; we are here to live it fully, carrying awareness of spirit with us, yet focusing one hundred percent on being in this physical world. When I am flying across the water, pulled by my kite, I am fully alive. I am absolutely present. I am totally focused. Nothing distracts me. The water and the wind are my world, and the kite allows me to tune into them, to utilize their power in a dance that gets more and more complex as I get more and more tuned into the elements, bypassing the machinations of my rational brain, which cannot compute information and response fast enough. I am constantly choreographing and re-choreographing my relationship to these powerful natural resources. I feel reborn every time I do this dance. Twenty minutes of kitesurfing makes an hour or two of drudgery seem irrelevant. After a day of this flying, I can forgive anyone’s sins.

This is the Zen of Sport.

I know I am not the only kitesurfer who feels this way. I see the need in the faces of other kitesurfers as they prepare their kites to go out. I see the relief in their faces when they come back to shore.

Is this the same kind of bliss that people feel after meditating? I believe it is. For some, the act of sitting still provides the same sense of alive-ness that others get from flying over the water. That flying over the water takes one into an inner stillness that is profoundly calming. I feel lighter, I feel delighted. It is an experience of enlightenment, right there for the taking. I’ve had a similar sensation horse-riding, dancing, and singing. I must assume that other sports—skiing, mountain climbing, motorbike riding, car racing, and so on—have the same effect.

Do we need to experience danger so that a sensation of being near death makes us feel fully alive? For a few sports enthusiasts that may be true, but for others it is the focus, the requirement of being centered and present, that makes us feel this way. In being so fully attuned to bodily sensations and removed from rational brain activity, we are allowing energy to flow through us without any impediment. That pure flow is the experience of being spirit, of spirit being. Does this description remind you of anything? In sexual play we are required to be absolutely present in the same way. Sex is a dance, and so is kitesurfing. Both require a profound letting go of external distractions—which is the aim of meditation—and an absolute attunement to the energies we are playing with.

Compassion and open-heartedness are very important qualities, ones that I want in myself and in all my friends. I’ve found them equally present in my kitesurfing community and my spiritual community. Kitesurfers are primarily concerned with their own enjoyment, whereas many of my spiritual friends feel that their place on this earth must be about helping others. I have grown to be a little suspicious of that way of thinking. I used to believe that I was gifted with levels of wisdom greater than the norm, and therefore I was qualified to give advice to others. Now I’ve realized that everyone is doing exactly what they need to be doing, and while I can and do offer my skills, it isn’t my job to change others. It’s not that I don’t want to be helpful. On the contrary, I really enjoy feeling that I have helped someone. But my life experience tells me that I don’t always know what to do for others. I feel that it is arrogant of me to assume that other people need help, and downright presumptive to assume that I can give them what they need.

Nowadays I believe that the most effective way I can improve the world is by being in a place of joy myself. Instead of kitesurfing, I could be doing all kinds of so-called good works—but if they made me unhappy, would that really benefit anyone? The motivation for doing good deeds is only too often tangled up with the ego wanting to feel virtuous, needing to feel useful and trying to project an image of the good person. Kitesurfing is purely for my pleasure. It has no trace of egotism or arrogance. It simply makes me feel good in myself, and consequently I radiate joy. That’s a gift—for the world.

As it is with kitesurfing, so it is with life in general. The power of the wind and the water are manifestations of Nature, beyond individual control and far more powerful than individual humans. Life force manifesting as the ongoing cycle of life and death, out of which we are created, is impossible for us to change. We would do much better to embrace it and play with it, than to resist it. To a great degree, the art of being human is about learning to tune into the natural rhythms around us, becoming one with them, and letting them flow through us. This is what kitesurfing teaches.

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