An accidental Buddhist?

BuddhaWhat does it mean when something is accidental? According to Webster it means happening by chance, unintentionally, or unexpectedly.

As that definition relates to Buddhism and to my still new experiences studying it, it is completely accurate.  I reflect on my dispassionate personality, my humanistic values, my respect for scientific inquiry, my appreciation of reality, and my celebration of reason and evidence, and it’s as if I have been an “accidental” Buddhist – in a manner of speaking – for a very long time.

This mode of thinking, this philosophy of Buddhism, this way of living that promotes and celebrates kindness toward all things, goodness, and mindfulness, has been in existence for approximately 2,600 years.  Over the many centuries since Gautama Buddha achieved enlightenment and subsequently documented his pathway to it and taught it to others; who in turn refined it and packaged  it in to a “religious-looking” box now called Buddhism, there have likely been millions of “accidental Buddhists” like me.  I wonder just how many of these chance Buddhists lived their lives within one of the world’s other major religious worldviews?

This speaks to an interesting observation about human nature. And that is that kindness, goodness, and even mindfulness, transcend artificial human boundaries. Boundaries like “culture,” “race,” “religion,” “and “nation.” There are universal truths about human nature to be discovered, refined, and cultivated.

The long of it is, that at least for now, I have no plans to shave my head, don a saffron robe, leave my family, and pilgrimage to the Himalayas.  But it is very comforting to know that these somewhat nebulous notions of enlightenment, goodness and human happiness, have been documented and practiced for thousands of years. What’s more, now with the benefit of modern neuroscience, we can quite literally see the benefits to our brains that result from mindfulness. In other words, what these dutiful mediators have been telling us is true, is actually true.

And for a born skeptic like me, that has real power.

The three types of “soccer haters”

With another Woman’s World Cup victory in the American trophy case, with the US Men’s National Team continuing to show well, and with MLS adding more and more teams to the mix (including my new hometown team, Atlanta United) it’s safe to finally say that soccer has arrived in the United States.

That’s not to say that for the diehard among us, it hasn’t already been here, but now it seems that the sport has turned the corner and people who may not have had any involvement in actually playing the game, either themselves are by watching their kids, are starting to tune in.
All that said, there are still a few detractors out there, so this piece is dedicated to those few stubborn souls who remain unwilling to let the joy of the beautiful game wash over them. Through extensive scientific research, which is to say my own personal anecdotal experiences reading a few online sports forums over the last few years,  I have determined that there are three types of “anti-soccer fans”, if it’s possible to be an anti-fan of anything. We might call these people, asoccerists.  Here they are:
1. The Soccer Hater: This is your sports fan who understands the basic rules of soccer, but was most likely humiliated playing it as a kid. They will isolate one negative component of the game (e.g., diving or fan violence) and then extrapolate that to the entire sport. In conversations about soccer, they will try emasculating the sport by using third grade homophobic playground tactics such as calling the sport, “gay” or “unmanly.” And as any one who has taken psychology 101 will attest, they are simply manifesting a response to their own insecurities.  They may also believe soccer to be “communist” or “socialist.” They will use the term “Euro trash” to describe all soccer players, not really knowing what they are describing. These are your typical soccer trolls. Semi-mainstream American sports media has a few: Jim Rome, Chuck Klosterman, Frank Deford, basically shock jock types preaching to their own collective choirs with no real thinking or analysis behind anything. They have an irrational fear of the sport as being “un-American,” without realizing that it’s the most popular participatory sport in the US by a couple of orders of magnitude. They are scared of soccer and its popularity so they lash out at it.
2. The Perplexed Soccer Observer: Unlike the soccer hater, these fans simply don’t understand the game. Through no fault of their own, they have not been exposed to the game either as a player or observer which means they are most likely typical, middle-American, apple pie and NFL, MLB, NBA types. They look at final scores as an indication of match quality and equate high scores with good games (which we know can be mind-numbingly dull in soccer) whereas a 0-0 draw to them is an abomination (and again, we know these matches can leave you without fingernails). They don’t understand positions so they don’t recognize when the players are creating and exploiting space, they don’t see nuance of movement or get the mental acuity required of assessing omni-directional options. They don’t yet appreciate the basics of passing skill, trapping skill, vision, strength on the ball, shooting, heading, multi-step thinking, changing points of attack (unless they played basketball), and so on; therefore, when they flip the TV channel to a match, all they see is a ball being moved from one person to another with “no purpose.” Of course the soccer-literate among us know that the purpose is always to create an opportunity. The perplexed soccer observers are not closed off and they will ask questions. We need to be patient as these people will eventually grow to love the game like the rest of us.
3. The Soccer Agnostic: These are sports fans without an opinion, which is to say that they are extremely rare. They are probably big fans of cycling or bull riding; meaning they could not care less about soccer, football, baseball, basketball, or hockey. They represent .0001% of the sporting world. Again, using my scientific analysis.
Let’s go kick the ball around, shall we?
Ryan Bays

Writer. Dungeon Master. Science Fan. Beer Lover.

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