Zen, Baseball, and Single Mindedness

Spring Training 2013

Spring Training 2013

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word
and believes in the one who sent me
has eternal life and will not come to condemnation,
but has passed from death to life. (Jn. 5)

Jesus speaks of eternal life. All too often eternal life is seen as something that is up there and out there—something that will come as a reward after we have suffered through much. If the existential philosophers and theologians taught us anything, they taught us that eternal life is life lived fully and responsibly. They focused on their lived life experience here and now.

Eternal life is living with wisdom. We “believe” that we live in and are sustained by Divinity. We fully grasp what Isaiah taught us about the maternal love of God:

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you. (Is. 49)

The Living God assures us that the hairs of our very heads are numbered and God promises never to forget us. Wow!

Eternal life means living in the present. The past is history and the future is not yet here and the present will soon be the past while the future will become the present. Our Buddhist brothers and sisters have a great deal to teach us about mindfulness. In an age where technology makes multi-tasking the norm, we are called to single-pointedness. We are called to focus on what is happening here and now.

The photograph is from a spring training baseball game. I really enjoy going to a few games each March. Spring games, like the Masters Tournament, remind us that warmer air and sun-filled skies are on the way. New life is bursting forth. As I watched the game which was boringly scoreless into the sixth inning, I concluded that Abner Doubleday, the reputed founder of baseball, must have been a Buddhist at heart. Baseball often has been called a blue collar sport but today few blue collar workers can nigh afford a spring training or regular season ticket. I looked up tickets for a Braves game at Disney’s Wide World of Sports and the Ticket Master tab came to $98 for two tickets. Ouch for the wallet!

Baseball does require the ability to focus on the present. If you wander off and play with your smart phone, you soon realize that you have missed something. Oh, is there a new pitcher on the mound? Once I realized this, I made an effort, clumsy at best, to focus on each pitch and every outcome. I realized that I am not used to doing this. When I go to the next game on Friday, I will be honing my spiritual practices—single-minded focus on what is happening HERE and NOW.

How did I get from the maternal nature of God to baseball? Well, it has something to do with understanding eternal life as life lived in focus on the moment. Golf also offers the same opportunity for spiritual practice. Bad shots happen when we get distracted and forget the fundamentals of putting or chipping. As the Buddhists, when you chop wood, chop wood. When you carry water, carry water. When you wash the dishes, wash the dishes. A story about Thomas Merton reaffirms this. A novice monk under Merton’s guidance came for spiritual direction. The monk told Merton, “I think I have finally figured it out. I’ve got it now. I am in the fourth room in Theresa’s spiritual mansion.” Merton replied, “Fourth level, hell. Go to the kitchen and wash dishes.” Merton wrote, “[W]alking down a street, sweeping a floor, washing dishes, hoeing beans, reading a book, taking a stroll in the woods-all can be enriched with contemplation and with the obscure sense of the presence of God. (Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation, William H. Shannon, editor, HarperSan Francisco, 2003; p 66)

Whatever our spiritual practice, we need to understand that baseball, golf, knitting, pottery, photography and any other activity requires single-minded focus.

Meditation on a daily basis can help us be present. It can be frustrating especially when the monkey mind roams and wanders all over the past and future. Over time, however, the daily practice has started helping me focus on what is really important in life. When I now wake up in the middle of the night when the demons and dragons are roaming the synapses of my mind, I am finding it easier to put things in perspective. I find it easier to tell myself that getting the damnable taxes done on time or the paper for the next presentation ready by the deadline are not really all that important in the grand scheme of things and that, in the larger scheme, “All is well and all will be well.” “Neither taxes nor shipwreck can separate me from the love of the Risen Christ.” I then nestle into the arms of the Loving God and ease back into restful sleep.

I stumbled across or was gifted with, I think the latter, when I was preparing this reflection. Teresa Tilson has posted a wonderful article on “The Way of Meditation and Contemplation” (http://www.stolaf.edu/people/huff/classes/religion/Essay.html)

The daily practice of meditation is helping me develop a relationship with the Living God who calls us forth from darkness into Living Light, “Saying to the prisoners: Come out! To those in darkness: Show yourselves!” God is calling us to new life in the Risen Cosmic Christ. The only requirement is quite simple. If we wish to be present to the Presence, we have to show up. That’s all. Just show up. Richard Rohr has a technique for getting us to rest in God:

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.


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