Playing sport has been important to me all my life. Playing tennis, swimming, skiing, hiking; all these activities fill my heart with joy – as sport exercises our hearts and spirits as well as our bodies. For me, sport is also food for my soul! And I try to do it everyday not because I need to but because I love to. When I’ve just won a hard-fought three setter in doubles tennis and I’ve really gone for it and got one or two good shots in, I feel very energised and sense that all parts of me have not only been exercised but also stretched. And I think we need to be stretched in life. Intellectually, spiritually, physically. And putting effort into a particular sport is a good way to achieve it.
Please note I say stretched, not strained, the difference being that strain happens when we push against obstacles, when we try to move forward with the wind blowing against us. It is an effort and it exhausts us. Stretching, on the other hand, occurs when we allow the force to be with us, when we connect to a pocket of energy bigger than ourselves and we surrender to it – like arranging the sails on our boat in such a way that the wind moving against us, is now harnessed to be ‘on our side’ and so is now propelling us forward! The difference between a machine and a human being is that the more the former is exercised, the more it breaks down and gets rusty, whereas with us, the more exercise we do, the healthier we become, and what tarnishes us, is not exercising – having no physical activities that engage us as a totality and so potentially stretch us.
Great sports people have much to teach us about our human possibilities. A Federer, for example, not only enters ‘the zone’ when he plays, but he seems to enter a higher zone than other tennis players and to remain there for longer. It is no mean feat in one’s mid-thirties, to take on seven people all in their early twenties and beat them all without dropping a set, which is what happened at Wimbledon a few weeks ago. And what a joy this match was to watch. I was totally in awe.
For me, Federer is a Zen Master or the Grand Master of tennis. He dances his play. It always looks effortless. Watching that final, I felt he was so aligned to the spirit of the game that that spirit had taken him over, or was playing him rather than him directing the play. In other words, it felt like he was connected into a higher and more intelligent energy circuit that was bigger than him and which was orchestrating the game. In this space, you can’t not choose the right shot; you don’t do unforced errors; in this space, the ball is always in by two centimetres not out by two centimetres. Whereas other great players strain themselves, which is why they always have injuries, Federer never seems to have injuries because he never strains himself. On the contrary, it feels as if the higher energy source he is aligned with, enables him to inhabit a domain of being where broken Achilles tendons, tennis elbows or groin strain are simply not part of its furniture. So just as an Einstein did his mathematical calculations out of a different time-space zone to most other Scientists, or a Tolstoy touched into a universal consciousness when writing War and Peace, so Federer also plays his sport out of a very different world, one that is also pure genius!