As an antidote to the tumult and frequent unpleasantness of modern working life, a gentleman should seek in sport the restorative benefits of meditation. That is not to say that one should seek a quieter mind for the sake of a more productive workday, but rather for the sake of mental and spiritual clarity. A gentleman might look automatically to the Eastern traditions of Yoga and Zen Buddhism — of which the benefits are made clear by the multitude of adherents and practitioners. I have found that those benefits extend well beyond the practices of these Eastern traditions, however. In fact, I have found that every culture offers some form of access to the meditative state. I submit the following short list of options for finding your own Zen:
In and around the historic town of the Firth of Forth, the Scots invented the precision game of golf. The game requires focus of mind and body, the subsidence of nerves, and control of breath and pulse, in order to strike the ball appropriately. From its inception (around the mid 1400s), the beneficial results of this sport became immediately apparent. The game grew to become a distraction to a degree that it was banned on numerous occasions by Britannic monarchs as it distracted men from the military arts such as archery. The sport is apparently no less of a distraction today, as nearly three million new golfers take to the links each year.
In the Scandinavian Peninsula, Nordic skiing was invented as a matter of necessity. This tricky mode of transportation requires a skier to simultaneously slide one’s ski across the snow—forward—and then grip that snow—rearward. To simply move forward on a pair of Nordic skis, one must reach sustained rhythm and repetition that can only be gained through practiced physical and mental durability. Today, skiing cross-country no longer requires snow and can be done in more comfortable environs due to wheeled roller-blade type skis.
Among the Polynesian Islands, historians reckon that surfing has existed for thousands of years. Hawaiian’s have for time immemorial treated this activity as an art as much as a recreation. The object is to demonstrate grace and beauty through balancing atop the roiling curve of an ocean’s wave. An American medical doctor — Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz — found the practice so alluring that he decided to live and raise his family literally on the beach—as evidenced in the recent film Surfwise (2007).
No one can say exactly when and where rock climbing was taken up as a sport. However, the modern version was popularized by the forebearers who climbed some of the highest vertical rock walls of the Yosemite Valley in the 1950’s. To reach the top of the famous El Capitan, a rock climber must moderate fear in an unnaturally high place while at the same time balancing and ascending upon the miniscule indentions or protrusions in the rock’s face. One of those climbers, Yvon Chouinard, used the inspiration he gained there to start a new type of ecologically conscious business that we all know as Patagonia.
My list is by no means exhaustive and so I invite readers to provide ideas in the comment section below. How might a gentleman find his own Zen? Next week, I will share how I find my own in the practice of fly-fishing.
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For further reading on Zen and outdoor recreation, I recommend: Kerouac, Jack. The Dharma Bums (1958) Penguin.