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As a kid growing up in India, the quadrennial celebration called the Olympic Games was one of the most eagerly awaited sporting events for me and our family. We would watch every possible minute of coverage that we could, and devour every single column inch of newspaper coverage about the event. We paid very close attention to the Indian men’s field-hockey team for that is one event, and perhaps the only event, where India had any chance of winning a medal. The sprinters and middle-distance runners from the USA and Britain, the long distance runners from Kenya, the weightlifters and gymnasts from the then USSR and the eastern bloc were always eagerly awaited. We would go to school the next day and discuss the previous days stories with much gusto with our friends. What are some of your favorite memories of the Olympics?

Fast forward a few decades. The heroics of the likes of Carl Lewis (100m, long jump), Michael Johnson (200m, 400m), Jackie Joyner-Kersee (heptathlon, long jump), Edwin Moses (400m hurdles) still bring a smile to my heart as I look back on the inspiration they provided to generations of atheletes and those who watched them perform. If you have ever run track like the gallant Milkha Singh, tried to launch a shot-put like Randy Barnes, hit your head on the bar while trying to go over in high-jump, stumbled while attempting the triple jump, gotten all turned around while attempting to throw the discus like Al Oerter or simply watched in awe as Sergei Bubka made the pole vault look effortless – you get the idea of my athletic ‘prowess’ (or lack ot it) and why the Olympics hold a fascination for me to this day. What is it about the Olympics that fascinates you? What are your favorite sports and athletes from the past?

The beginning of the Olympics tends to make me reflect on what it is that makes them unique and special. Here are a few things that come to mind:

  • The motto: Faster, Higher, Stronger. These three words, in various combination, define the aspirations of many an spiritual athlete. I particularly relate to ‘higher’ and ‘stronger’ – working on building strength while soaring higher. How do we build strength? Adherence to truth, faith in a higher power, and a commitment to joy are three good ways. How do we soar higher? Being grounded in our practice is a good start. Can you think of any way(s) in which ‘faster’ could apply to spirituality?
  • The Olympic Rings – five interlocking colors on a white background, represent the colors of the flags of every nation. To me, they represent an unprecedented spiritual unity of different paths, with the circles indicating the infinite nature of our potential for love. What do the circles and the colors represent to you?
  • The Flame, its eventual lighting at the opening ceremony, and the torch-relay that precedes it, is perhaps one of the most enduring symbols of the games. As long as the flame stays lit at Olympic stadium, the games are in progress. Like fire burns all impurities and refines gold, we have an opportunity presented to us in this lifetime. Our chosen ‘sports’ of meditation, exercise, yoga and healthy eating combined with our practices of kindness, friendliness, and joyfulness can bring home pure gold. Will we step up to train for the spiritual olympics?
  • The athletes who participate are the reason that the Olympics exist. There may be a hyper-focus on the medal winners, but there is more than enough evidence that every single athlete is ‘living their dream’ of participation. With the encouragement of their coaches, their trainers and their friends and families, the athletes serve to inspire in ways that go beyond the podium and the playing of anthems. For me, it is the stories about the ones who came in fourth, the ones who fell but got up and kept on running to make it to the finish, the ones who stopped to help a ‘competitor’ across the finish line that speak to the principles of the (spiritual) Olympics. What is it about the athletes and their spirit that inspires you so?

Every time the Olympics roll around, there are many criticisms and critics that allude to the fact that the world cannot ‘afford’ this particular event at this time in our history. My take is that there are very few events, if any, that seem to bring the world ‘together’ in the way that the Olympics manage to do. The time is rarely perfect, and this time around, the world may be in more turmoil than usual. But, if we do not create time and space in our world to celebrate a little bit of togetherness with a little bit of music, color and paegentry, then how are we going to create a better world after all? What if, for the next two weeks, every time we see any of the Olympic symbols or colors – the flag, the rings, the flame, the athletes – we utter a small prayer for peace and love? Can you think of any better way to celebrate humanity’s collective spiritual journey? If so, do share with us.

I invite you to share some answers to the questions I have posed in this post. Join us on twitter, Sunday August 7th at 9amET/1pmUTC on twitter in #SpiritChat. And wear an olympic-sized smile and your olympic colors.

Namaste,

Kumud

Rio 2016 Olympic RIngs

A green, gold and blue coloured design, featuring three people joining hands in a circular formation, sits above the words “Rio 2016”, written in a stylistic font. The Olympic rings are placed underneath.