Baseball as Spiritual Teacher

People who know me know I love baseball. Alright, that may be an understatement. Really, it’s a passion. What most people don’t realize is that my appreciation and passion for baseball go far beyond my love of the Chicago Cubs, or my admiration for their short stop, Javi Báez. Baseball has been a sacred vessel or holy catalyst for understanding joy.

I’ve encountered many people over the years who wonder what the difference is between happiness and joy. At this point, I’ve realized several distinctions I’m glad to share. Happiness is more of a moment, whereas joy lingers longer. Happiness stays more on the surface and tends to be one dimensional, where as joy comes up from deep within and tends to ultimately stay there and be multi-dimensional. In the end, happiness is a wonderful emotion certainly to be savored and enjoyed. Joy is a spiritual movement that takes us to savory sacred places. It is joy that invites us to connect with much more than first meets the eye, and so in the
end, carries us into a fuller awareness of healthy holy things that matter most. Things that that deepen us as human beings, encourage our wholeness, and the spread of greater wholeness into the world. 

Let me offer some real examples. I can desire to get a pet and decide to go out and get a dog. I can come home with the dog feeling happy to have her. Yet when I pause long enough to remember having a dog when I was younger growing up and how having a dog was actually a vehicle for knowing unconditional love and acceptance, I am beginning to tap into something deeper and richer than my “happiness”. I am experiencing an internal movement. I am expanding out into a mystical mix of wisdom and gratitude, something much more than “this dog” before me. Now I am in touch with what dogs have invited me to in the past and where this dog might take me in the future, making me a better person for it. I’ve been moved to joy.

Similarly, I can be “happy” to be with one of my daughters on her birthday. Yet when I slow down enough to look at her long enough, I begin going deeper below the “surface event.”  I realize I am not only seeing her and sharing in a meal or cake, but recognizing the culmination of a life, the privilege of getting to be any part of its formation, the unique gifts and beauty held within and unfolding through it. I realize the privilege of the opportunity to continue being part of companioning this life with respect, compassion and encouragement. Now I am being moved beyond happiness, to joy. Beyond this “surface birthday meeting”, I have discovered the precious gift held deep within waiting for me to slow down long enough to discover and unwrap it.

It makes me happy to watch a baseball game on television or at a stadium. It makes me happy to see my favorite players, which are really, many, especially on the Chicago Cubs. It makes me happy to eat sunflower seeds like Javi Báez does and my grandfather did before me. It makes me happy to give other Cub’s fans “high fives” when we win, and an “it’ll be o.k. thumbs up” when we lose. Yet when I slow down and look around long enough, being present in and to my experience, something else happens. I realize how watching baseball connects me into my family, especially my father, who introduced me to it. I realize what a wonderful thing it is to intentionally live a balanced life of hard work and play and am thankful to be practicing that whenever I am watching baseball. I see my partner, who is so often with me and realize how wonderful it is that we share this love, because it helps connect us even more, sometimes alleviates stress for each of us or between us, and helps us to live a balanced relationship. I realize the opportunity baseball gives me to practice connecting with strangers, especially at stadiums, in a world where there is so much fear and isolationism. I realize the ways baseball seems to “free me up”, and how valuable it is to have such a vehicle for stepping back from taking anything too seriously. In all this, and much more I could name, there is a movement below and beyond a surface “happiness”, to a deep joy. There is the recognition of a multitude of meaningful things in service to self and others baseball carries me into so that I may be carried out after the game a better person for the world. 

Happiness is an important and wonderful thing. And happiness holds the potential to know joy. How we are attentive to our happiness is the key. To slow down and be attentive enough to our happiness to allow a possible movement to joy, is a worthwhile practice. Sure, sometimes the taste of french fries or the color of flowers simply make us happy. Yet, the sacred resides in the ordinary often just waiting for a longer loving look in order to take us to the very things that make for greater peace in ourselves and so, for the world.  For the movement to joy brings greater openness and space creating the more compassionate hearts the world desperately yearns for and needs for long term survival. Who knew baseball could contain and offer something so Divine beyond the logistics of the game and good hot dogs, (at least in Chicago, that is). What contains that for you? What “happy place” might be inviting you to a movement you never knew could carry you so far? Practice paying more attention when you are happy. You just might be surprised what rises up and where that movement takes you …

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