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NBA Championships and Buddhist Philosophy

This is my favorite song from the album "All That You Can't Leave Behind" by U2.

So the Los Angeles Lakers won another championship after one of the roughest, hardest played, most intense games that I have ever seen. I felt like I was watching something in between a football game and a wrestling match (with some basketball thrown in). This game, along with the entire season, seemed so important when it was taking place, with the stakes particularly high because the Lakers were facing their ultimate rival, the Boston Celtics. This was a competition over future bragging rights as the greatest NBA franchise in history. Even Kobe Bryant, a guy known for being calm under pressure, would later admit that this game made him nervous. (He sure looked it; although it is hard to score when guys are constantly hanging all over you.)

You would think, therefore, that when the buzzer finally sounded, I would feel a sense of jubilation. After sweating through another wild season, and seeing those hated Celtics finally go down, I should have been overjoyed. Experiencing this moment was what it was all about, right? Strangely, what I felt was mostly a sense of relief. Some joy did begin to appear as the championship sunk in, but the thrill of ultimate victory was nowhere near as intense as some of the emotions experienced during the course of the season. So what is my problem? Have I been spoiled by the many previous Lakers championships over the years? Are negative emotions, particularly the fear of defeat, more powerful than the positive feelings of victory?

Like another recent post that mentioned basketball, this is not merely a self-analysis of Paul Swendson: psychotic sports fan. Believe it or not, there is a life lesson here. At many times in the past, when I have looked forward with great anticipation toward getting some object or having some experience, it turned out that finally possessing that item or achieving that goal was not quite as gratifying as I had expected. When I was a kid, there were times where I just had to have a certain toy, video game, electronic device, or some other thing. If I could just get my hands on it, then I would be forever satisfied. Then, if I finally got that special item, it was awesome (for a while). Of course, eventually it would be clear that possessing that ultimate object did not make life perfect. Therefore, only one logical course of action remained: get that next perfect thing. Then, as you have already figured out, the cycle of desiring and ultimate disappointment would continue.

I have also had similar experiences when traveling to different places, watching the latest blockbuster movie, or even getting married. Now I am not saying that these have been negative experiences. (So don’t go running to my wife to tell on me.) Like NBA championships and cool toys for Christmas, these are all parts of a long list of great memories. Still, no single acquisition or experience has ever been completely fulfilling, in itself, for any extended period of time. Somehow, I always fall back into day-to-day life, and I continue to be the same guy with all of his typical flaws and desires. I can guarantee you that when the next NBA season rolls around, even though the Lakers have won back-to-back championships (again), I will get pissed off every time that they lose a game. “What has anyone or anything done for me lately?” This could probably be written as an epitaph for the entire human race.

I do not remotely pretend to be an expert on Buddhism. My understanding, however, is that its original founder taught that all suffering ultimately comes from human desire. Human beings want things, and in some cases they do not get what they want, creating pain and suffering. The big problem, however, is that even when we get what we want, we will still be unsatisfied. Buddhism, like Hinduism, teaches that the world we experience is essentially an illusion, so the things that we become attached to in this illusory world can never satisfy us. The only thing that we can do, therefore, is to work toward eliminating desire. “The Eightfold Path” is the original self-help program, laying out a clear process toward the promotion of self-discipline with the ultimate goal of eliminating all desire.

Buddhism in its original form, however, is very hard, and most of us don’t have the time or the temperament to detach ourselves from the world and become a monk. What we can do, however, is grow a bit wiser as we age and stop looking for that amazing object, event, or person that is going to make everything just right. In other words, we have to stop behaving like children who are looking for that next perfect toy. Real joy comes from finding moments of fulfillment in everyday existence; from not being too attached or expecting too much from people, objects, and events; from looking beyond our selfish desires; and from realizing that life is about the journey, not just the destination. As I know from learning and re-learning these lessons hundreds of times, it is easier said than done.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes the disappointment comes from the fact that the event is over. Christmas comes with high expectations and it's a whirlwind of fun. Then it's over. Same with the wedding. Brides, especially, lose sight in planning for the big event that there's a life beyond - this tough thing called marriage.

    As far as not feeling euphoria after the game, that's because you're rooting for the wrong team and there were some questionable calls in the fourth-quarter. Seriously, maybe it's also because the season is over. Now that the season goes into most of June, I've gotten pretty used to basketball nearly always being on.

    You should read The Paradox of Choice.


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