Recreation, sport, competition and competence
Competition, as it is often understood these days, could be seen to go against yoga.
By definition, yoga is all inclusive. It leaves nothing out. Yoga cannot leave anything out, because it is about connecting and integrating all the parts. It is about unity in the middle of our world of so many dualities. And unity can be real and sustainable only if it is genuinely inclusive.
In recent times, as I write, one has not needed to look far to see the ugly face of competition in the sporting arena: a win at all costs attitude, sports ‘cultures’ full of abuse and corruption. Yet still, one can also see examples of the sense of companionship and respect that can come from competition/competitive endeavour, and the way that honest, respectful competitiveness between well-matched rivals can help everyone grow. When competitors play fairly, they can spur each other on and drive each other to growth: the competitive arena can become a place where everyone is edified.
When competitive sport is such, everyone is a winner. Each participant is complicit in the growth and ‘going beyond’ of the others. When we compete, seek and strive together honestly and openly, our competence grows, and our understanding of ourself grows.
And really, this is what competition means. Etymologically:
Verb - Compete, from com – together and petere – to seek together
Noun – competition, strife of rivals towards a common goal
And: Competence – the ability to work towards a goal
Considering the root meaning of the word then, we could say that competition means to work together towards an aspiration, towards something all parties working together yearn for. And competence is our ability to do this.
This sounds a lot like using a technique, or a support (an ālambana in the Sanskṛt yogic terminology), as the means to invite all our constituent powers into the experience of working together so that we can feel a real satisfaction.
Yoga practice is about developing, remembering, and reclaiming this innate competence.
As such, we might say that yoga is a ‘competitive sport’: not in the sense of a game with winners and losers, but as a re-creational game, in which every participant can be a ‘winner’. It is the play, or the game, of inviting all our constituent powers to work together so they may access and reveal their deeper longing.
Nowhere to go, nothing to do
Of course, there are those who say: No, no, no, no! There is nothing to do, there is nowhere to go, you are already it! And they may be right, but most times when I hear this, I feel ‘the lady doth protest too much’, and I am not convinced.
It may well be true that I am already all that I seek. However, if my current habits, patterns and ways of thinking, seeing and holding myself continually remind me that I am not quite satisfied, that I’m not quite playing the game of life as skilfully as I might, that I am not drinking from life’s rich cup as deeply as I might, then by Thunder I’d better do something about it!
If I do nothing, then I know what happens: I drop into depressed apathy, or I notice I have all this angst, this pain, this grief and desire that propels me to do. Or, more basically, I need to defecate, I need to feed myself, because as Kṛṣṇa reminds us so beautifully and powerfully in the Gītā: doing nothing is just not an option for a human being. The ‘choice’ to do nothing is itself an action, a ‘karma’, and it will have consequences. As a human, we are a living, breathing, moving agent: action is our nature, and we cannot avoid it. The mere sustenance of our life demands action. Yoga, the practical school of Indian Philosophy, holds no truck with the armchair intellectualiser theorising about his true nature, but exhorts us to be all we really are and demonstrate it in the way we conduct our lives.
Action is inevitable, the question then is how? How do I do it, this thing called life? How do I make it? How do I play it?
Make it a sport, make it a game, make it a play, make it a recreation.
Take it easily, but seriously.
Get in the game, be here, now! But know, remember, it is a game.
Not inhibited by concern about the result, just allow myself to enjoy the experience.
Freeing ourselves from the weight of past impressions and the anxieties over future outcomes by engaging fully with this moment, the ‘actionless action’, the ‘effortless effort’, the skilful means, the karma yoga, the action that is its own reward becomes our reality.
This yoga is a game worth playing.
Playing like this, I am no longer concerned by winning or losing. Inhabiting the moment like this, so fully, so whole-system nourishingly, is its own victory, its own triumph, its own reward.