The Olympic Games are underway. Millions from around the world will watch the televised events, cheering for their favorite athletes from their living rooms. Rather than focusing on the competition itself and the per country metal count, we'll be remembering the values promulgated in 1903 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863 -1937), founder of the modern Games:
"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
To honor dimensions of the Olympics beyond the competition itself, we've come up with some spiritual practices based on the Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy. Here are some ways to make watching the Olympics into a spiritual practice.
• Pay attention to all the small details of an event including the efforts of the athletes to get ready or to calm down, the noise of the crowd, the environmental factors, and whatever else that you notice.
• Savor the beauty of exceptional speed, rhythm, balance, or strength. As former basketball star Bill Russell put it: "My own view is that athletics is an art form. As a fan I watch in the same way that I imagine an art connoisseur studies a painting."
• Be present as you watch each event. Realize that you are meant to be watching at this very moment. Don't multitask. Don't allow yourself to be distracted.
• Notice the connections between what is happening at the Games and what has happened or is happening in your own life. Have you ever participated in an athletic competition? Recall how you felt. Have you felt the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat in sports or outside of them? When and where?
• Show your enthusiasm for the athletes' quests for excellence. Notice how the crowds react to the events and act as if you were there in person.
• Notice all the expressions of gratitude at the games. When you hear an athlete thanking a coach or a team member, do the same for someone who has had an influence upon your life.
• Practice hospitality to all the athletes from the different countries. Try to learn a little about where some of your favorites come from.
• Make a conscious effort to be joyful for all the participants and not just for those from your country.
• Keep a diary or journal close at hand to record moments of meaning, especially honest expressions of surprise or disappointment. Notice which of your own emotions come to the fore as you watch the Games.
• A large part of the pleasure of sports is observing the athletes' enjoyment of play. Let them re-introduce you to this childlike state of being as you watch them participate in the Games.
• Regard these well-trained athletes as spiritual teachers who are exemplars of perseverance, discipline, and regular exercise. Make a commitment to care for your body during and after the Games.
• Notice and cherish the unity that is essential to teamwork in certain events. Call or write someone on your "team" and express your appreciation for your special relationship.
• Tune in to those events which most arouse you sense of wonder. What is it about them that brings about this response?
• Remember that for most participants, the Olympic Games are bigger than other sports events. Still, no matter how well each athlete has trained, anything can happen and the smallest detail can make all the difference. Respect the X factor — mystery.
• Find a way to honor the yearning that has brought these men and women to the Olympic Games. Try to imagine the dreams which have been part of their everyday activities up to this moment. Dream big yourself.
• The spiritual practice of zeal means to be fully aroused by life. Irenaeus stated: "The glory of God is the human person fully alive." Keep track of those athletes who demonstrate this quality and write about them in your journal or diary. Then reflect upon what makes you feel fully alive and engage in it during the day.