Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Be an Olympian

As appeared in Bangkok Post Real.Time, August 29, 2008.

For the past two weeks, the athletes were not the only ones who have been riding the emotional roller-coaster. As the world watched in awe the drama of epic proportion that was slowly unfolding one day after another, valuable life’s lessons emerged.

Let us reflect for a moment, then, on what we could learn from the latest grandest sports fest of mankind.

First, the success stories. This Olympics has its fair share of fairy tale stories, of jack-who-kills-the-giant and dark horses (no pun intended, as there were many disqualified doped horses over there in the equestrian event).

The lessons from success story are pretty much straightforward: you reap what you sowed. Hard work and constant effort pays off; unwavering spirit is rewarding, etc.

But it was the other type of story that could produce more valuable lessons. It is the story of defeat, unexpected outcome, and disappointments.

There were certainly plenty of such story in this Olympics. Viewers in Thailand may recall a broadcast of a medal ceremony for weightlifting, the one that a Thai weightlifter won the Gold. It is more than obvious that the bronze medallist for the event was not very happy. She has been putting on a rather sulking face, not to mention her refusal to join the other medallists for the mandatory all-hands-up press shot. She left the podium abruptly, airing her anger for the whole world to see.

She certainly was not alone. In Greco-Roman wrestling, an athlete had to be restrained by coaches and teammates from attacking the referees when he learned that he lost the match and had to settle for bronze. His anger burst would continue throughout the medal ceremony when he infamously left the podium and threw his bronze medal angrily on the floor.

The abandoned bronze medal. Photo from Telegraph, UK.

Certainly such display of discontent could have raised eyebrows. The world probably had expected top-level sportsmanship from athletes who are supposed to be the best of their country. But let us hold our judgment of others right there. For, we, too, until we are Enlightened, are not immune from such emotional wreckage. And we’d better be grateful that when we sport such outburst ourselves, there would be no TV crew around.

The most we can do is to hope that those angry athletes would one day become mature and realize what they have done. The damage is on themselves, really. Imagine the day when they become parents or grandparents. The image that they would rather forget would remain to haunt them forever, in many digital formats. As a fellow human being, we should feel really sorry for them and can only offer them our compassion and best wishes. May they soon get over their suffering and be ready to give their best for the society they live in once again.

Come to think about it, there would probably be hundreds of other athletes who would be so happy already to be in their place, meaning winning any medals. Many others would also say they would be thrilled just to make the finals. Still, more others would beam happily already throughout the Games, savoring the pride of being able to represent their country and knowing that they have contributed the best they can.

This Olympics proves that, for many of us, happiness seems to be conditional. We must “win” or beat others in order to become happy. And when an unexpected event happens, many of us can not accept it and let go. Perhaps what we can do is learn how to achieve unconditional happiness. One way to do that is to practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness training will enable us to see one indisputable truth—that all things are impermanent. Things won’t always be the way we want it. Besides, there must be a higher purpose in life than just earning a piece of metal tied with ribbon, don’t you think?

In fact, we don’t even have to be top athlete of our respective nation to experience emotions of Olympic proportions. There should be plenty of examples in our everyday life, or that of those around us, that move us immensely.

Think about when we see people rise without hatred, anger or fear from life’s trying moments, be it domestic violence, financial meltdown, or natural disasters. Don’t we feel inspired and hopeful? More importantly, those real-life heroes around us make us believe in humanity once again. Don’t you think that sound pretty much like the Olympics’ Dream? Perhaps, as an Olympian of life’s Mind-Game, the best we can do is to believe in ourselves and others. For faith in humanity is all we need to make this world a better place.

The choice is ours, really.

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