The Hidden Side of Sports
The connection between sports and spirituality might seem hard to see at first, but the desire for spiritual experience is one reason why people play sports.
Renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has observed that sports is an effective way of generating the state he calls “flow.” This occurs when our attention is completely absorbed in an activity, and awareness of our surroundings and our selves fade away. Chaotic thought chatter gives way to inner peace and a sense of being energized and more alive than usual.
For a sportsperson, flow may lead to a state of being ‘in the zone’. Everything clicks, and they shift to a higher level of performance, capable of astounding feats. Without trying hard, everything seems naturally and inevitably perfect. Time moves slower, giving them more time to anticipate others’ actions and to better position themselves.
New age writer David Icke, once a professional soccer player, regularly experienced this state. As a goalkeeper, a player once fired a shot from close range that looked unstoppable. He notes, “All was like a slow-mo replay and everything was quiet, like some mystical dream, until my hand made contact with the ball. Then, everything zipped back into conscious time; I landed and bounced on the floor and the noise erupted, as if someone had turned off the mute button.”
Paranormal experiences are not uncommon amongst athletes. Many distance runners have reported glimpsing inside their bodies while running, while short-distance runners sometimes experience a phenomenon called ‘tipping’, in which they feel that they are rising into the air and becoming extremely light as they run. More dramatically, an athlete might feel a sudden inrush of strength and energy, as if they’ve made contact with a huge, normally inaccessible, energy reservoir inside themselves.
power to generate spiritual states.
Russian weightlifter Yury Vlasov describes a state of being he often experiences during competitions: “At the peak of tremendous and victorious effort, while the blood is pounding in your head, all suddenly becomes quiet within you. Everything seems clearer and whiter than ever before, as if great spotlights have been turned on. At that moment, you have the conviction that you contain all the power in the world.”
Advanced practitioners of martial arts like judo and karate are traditionally expected to smash bricks with their bare hands or knock over opponents with the lightest of touches, perhaps without touching them at all. The prerequisite for these feats is the ability to cultivate a state of intense absorption, which enables them to tune in to a more subtle and powerful form of energy.
Sports can even—if only rarely —take sportsmen to a state of true samadhi, a mystical state of union with the cosmos. Climber Richard Byrd describes his mystical experience exploring the Arctic Circle: “Out of the silence [came] the strain of a perfect chord, the music of the spheres, perhaps. It was enough to catch that rhythm, momentarily be a part of it. In that instant, I could feel no doubt of man’s oneness with the universe.”
Steve Taylor is the author of The Fall: the Insanity of the Ego in Human History and the Dawning of a New Era, commended by Eckhart Tolle and Colin Wilson. His website is .