Competition is ubiquitous throughout society. For many, competition is the backbone of our existence. “We have to work hard to succeed…to win!” How many times have you heard that statement? From the time we are brought into this world, we are bread and raised to compete. Survival of the fittest is engrained in our psyche.
Competition, in and of itself, is not bad. The means and results may, sometimes, to misplaced and removed from any heart intention. What if, perhaps, we have misunderstood the paradigm of competition:
Much of scientific theory, and consequently our model of the way things work, is going up in smoke. With every scientific finding, yet another cherished notion is overturned. A new scientific story is emerging that challenges our assumptions, including our most basic premise: the sense of things as separate entities in competition for survival.
The latest evidence from quantum physics offers the extraordinary possibility that all of life exists in a dynamic relationship of cooperation. Quantum physics now recognize that the universe is not a collection of separate things jostling around in empty space. All matter exists in a vast quantum web of connection, and a living thing at its most elemental is an energy system involved in a constant transfer of information with its environment. Rather than a cluster of individual, self-contained atoms and molecules, objects and living beings are now more properly understood as dynamic and protean processes, in which part of one thing and parts of another continuously trade places.
Lynne McTaggart. “No such thing as a thing.” ODE. Volume 8, Issue 3. July/August 2011. P. 36.
Sport is perhaps one of the most blatant displays of competition. As a competitive athlete in the past, I was trained to win, sometimes—perhaps frequently—at all costs. It was an international sporting competition I attended not that long ago that gifted me with the experience that competition can also provide a forum for love and compassion.
This international sporting competition I attended was of Olympic proportions. It was staged in a former Olympic venue with 1000’s of athletes from many countries around the world competing in dozens of sporting events—all watched by tens-of-thousands of spectators over many days. The event was complete with judges, timing equipment, and medal ceremonies. There were spectacular and spectacle-like opening and closing ceremonies. There were even world-class, elite athletes (former and current Olympians) competing at this event. However, there was something different about this event that made it different than your typical showcase for sport.
The organizers of this event went to great lengths to have this international sporting event be more about building community than determining the most proficient athlete competing in their respective sport. This was evidenced by such things as having men and women participating in the same events, having different categories of races (or heats) based on one’s proficiency in a given sport. Indeed, everyone from elite, Olympics athletes were participating in the same events as people who never even tried swimming, or volleyball, or basketball, or gymnastics, let alone competed against someone else. The organizers of this event shared as part of their Mission that:
Sport can bring people together in a way unlike any other activity. Sport has the power to transcend culture, nationality, religion, and most other barriers—in essence, sport has the power to transcend differences.
It was one particular sporting event I attended, and one particular race, that personified the spirit of these games and the demonstration that if we just stop competing against each other, our hearts and souls open up to love.
I was participating as an athlete in these games in the golfing competition. But because I was also an avid swimmer, I made a point of taking in, as a spectator, as much of the swimming competition as possible. On one particular morning that I watched the swimming heats, there was a full calendar/schedule of races planned. Early in the morning I had the delight and honor of watching a member of the United States Olympic swim team break the world record in the 200 meter backstroke. It was exhilarating and wondrous to watch the grace and ease that this swimmer cut through the water with precision and power.
Later in the morning there was the fateful race that put the entire theme of the games into perspective and reminded us all of how much more powerful love is than competition. This particular race featured some of the less experienced swimmers competing in the 200 meter backstroke. For those not familiar with how long 200 meters is, a swimmer must swim four lengths of an Olympic-sized swimming pool (each length being 50 meters) to complete the race.
With the swimmers at the starting blocks, the starter’s pistol was fired and the swimmers dove into the water. The capacity crowd (likely close to 5,000 spectators) in this venue started cheering for their friends and loved ones competing in the race. Very quickly, however, before most of the swimmers even finished one length of the pool, we knew this race was going to be different.
In lane 1 (closest to the side of the pool) was a swimmer who clearly was not proficient at the backstroke. Actually, there were moments when I wondered if this was the first time this person ever attempted to swim the backstroke.
As the other 7 swimmers in the pool finished their first 100 meters of the race (2 lengths of the pool) the swimmer in lane 1 had not even finished ½ a length. By the time the swimmer in lane 1 had finally made it to the end of the pool (finishing only 50 meters of the 200 meter race), all the other swimmers finished their entire 200 meter race (in approximately 2.5 – 3 minutes).
The swimmer in lane 1 continued swimming his race. While many spectators in the stands did seem to wonder what was happening (including me), we all stayed put and watched things unfold. The organizers of the event piped music over the PA system to keep people entertained as this swimmer (soon to be hero) continued his journey.
By the time the swimmer in lane 1 had completed 2 lengths of the pool (with still 2 lengths to go), 10 minutes had passed and he looked exhausted. I can remember wondering if he was even going to try to finish the race. Afterall, it had taken him about 10 minutes to complete the first 2 lengths of the pool and he had another 2 lengths to go.
To my surprise, and to the surprise of many in the stands, the swimmer in lane 1 pushed off from the wall to continue his odyssey and complete his race. The music continued playing over the PA system. People continued watching in amusement at what was unfolding in front of them. Some, like me, did become nervous at moments when the swimmer in lane 1 did not even seem to be moving through the water. His arms were flailing, but he didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I can remember thinking at one point, “is there a life guard around?”… “’cause this guy is gonna need one!”
With each passing minute, and each passing stroke that seemed to advance the swimmer so little through the water, the atmosphere in the building started to change. This energy shift was the result of one remarkable event. As the swimmer in lane 1 neared the completion of his 3rd length of the pool, one of his fellow competitors from the same race, who had finished the race many minutes earlier, came over from the bleachers where all the other swimming competitors were sitting, chatting and watching the scene unfold, and began to cheer the swimmer on. A minute later another swimmer competing in the same race joined him and then there were 2 swimmers cheering on the man in lane 1. By the time the swimmer in lane 1 finally touched the wall to complete his third length of the pool, there were about 10 swimmers standing on the pool deck cheering him on.
As the swimmer in lane 1 started his ‘home’ lap, his last length of the race, in a steady stream of support, all the swimmers competing in all the morning’s heats came in procession to the side of the pool (hundreds of them) to show their support and cheer him on. With about half a length to go (25 meters), and with all the swimmers on the pool deck chanting in unison “stroke, stroke, stroke”, the spectators in the building started to clap in unison to show their support for the courage being displayed in front of them.
In was a divine moment: to hear all the swimmers supporting their fellow competitor; to hear the unified applause of the spectators. When that fateful swimmer finally, some 20+ minutes after he started his race, touched the wall and finished his race, a roar went up from the crowd that was deafening. He clung to the wall, too weak to even acknowledge, perhaps even be aware of, what was happening around him.
His fellow competitors lifted him out of the water and embraced him. I watched as every single swimmer (and there were hundreds of them) waited their turn to hug him. I watched as those in the stands wiped tears of joy from their eyes (through my own tears). I watched as the euphoric energy in the building rose to a crescendo of love and compassion. And it did not stop there.
Within an hour of that amazing scene, there were the medal ceremonies. In order of the heats that took place that morning, the medals were handed out for the 1st (gold), 2nd (silver) and 3rd (bronze) place finishers in their respective races. When it was time to hand out the medals for the race where the swimmer in lane 1 took a little longer to complete his race than the other swimmers (stated with a compassionate smile), the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishers accepted their medals. Then, there was a pause…
The announcers came over the PA system and shared that the community of athletes had approached the judges/organizers of the event and wanted to honor the courage shown by the swimmer who finished last in the race mentioned above. He was asked to come forward and was honored with a gold medal for his courage and for personifying what the entire event was about. There was not a dry eye in the entire building.
Competition is not a bad thing. It can bring out some amazing things in us. It can help us to realize the vast potential that resides in each of us. Competition can raise us to new heights of achievement and performance. I might suggest that love has the equally-powerful potential to tap the vast potential that resides in each of us. Love, too, can bring out the best in each of us.
Shanti, Namaste, Agapé,
Rev. Robert Meagher
About the Author:
Robert Meagher worked for almost 25 years in traditional corporate settings and acted in various management roles in the education, arts, financial, not-for-profit, government, consulting, and healthcare sectors. Along the way Robert earned bachelor and masters degrees and professional certifications. Robert left corporate Canada in 2009 to set himself adrift and explore a new way of living and seeing the world we live in. Robert is now an Interfaith Minister who embraces a spiritual life and now serves to guide all those who wish to accept the Divine into their lives. Through Spiritual Guidance, Robert’s ministry initiative, he embraces the opportunity to serve those who wish to explore their own spirituality and gain insight into who they are, their purpose here in this lifetime and existence, and their desire to grow in Spirit. Robert can be reached at 613-204-0299, firstname.lastname@example.org, or through his website at www.servingyourjourney.com.
Photo via: http://spswimming.cca.sg/2012/09/29/competition/ (No copyright infringement intended.)