Subhuti followed yesterday’s European football championship final…
Well, I tried to remain neutral. But, of course, I failed.
Fate made sure I got hooked, by staging the final stages of the European Cup just as I arrived in England from Denmark.
I’d agreed to look after Betty, my 99 year-old mother, and since she cannot get around too well, we spent a lot of time watching sport on her massive, high definition, flatscreen TV. It was like being there, on the pitch, alongside the players: up-close, dramatic and personal.
When England beat Germany, then Ukraine, I registered quiet satisfaction. In the semi-final, when they clashed with Denmark, my chosen country of residence, I pretended to support both teams.
Secretly, I was happy England won.
But then, as the final with Italy approached, I began to feel uneasy.
The whole of England was going crazy. A huge, collective wave of patriotism and national dreams of glory surged through the country.
“It’s Coming Home!”
So many people seemed certain England would win. Politicians jumped on the bandwagon, waving the English flag. The Queen sent a message to the team. Newspaper headlines bellowed for victory. Knighthoods were lined up for the England manager and captain.
It was all too soon, too premature, generating massive expectations.
The closer the game came, the more my sense of foreboding grew.
As a meditator, I tried to remain an observer of my own emotions, noting that I was torn between hopes of victory and a nagging, underlying sense of impending doom. Indeed, throughout the game, I was able to remain aware of my own feelings, but I was not free of them. They ruled my inner world, making me squirm in my armchair.
As the final began, England scored a quick, effortless goal and the Italian team looked weak.
I laughed and felt a surge of hope.
Then slowly, after about 20 minutes, the Italian team took control of the field, keeping possession of the ball, forcing England on the defensive. At half-time, the English commentators were full of praise for their own team and confident of victory.
“You fools!” I muttered, angrily.
Because, you see, by that time, I somehow knew the game had been lost. You can’t allow a team like Italy to come at you, for a whole second half, and hope to win.
And that’s what happened. The English team lost its momentum. The Italians scored an equalizer.
The game went into extra time.
Then to the dreaded penalty shoot-out… and defeat for England.
It all ended in tears, with England’s young players heartbroken, weeping in each other’s arms.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. I was wide awake, buzzing with energy, stirred up, emotional. I watched myself, fascinated, as I tried to somehow make peace with what had happened. I couldn’t believe I’d been so caught up in this national ego trip.
Funnily enough, the most effective remedy came from my memory of something Osho said, when he was locked up in a jail at Heathrow Airport, during his World Tour, back in 1985. The sannyasins accompanying him were in shock, freaked out by being prisoners. Osho lay down on his bunk, smiled at them and said, “When in prison, behave like a prisoner.” And went to sleep.
I found that I could adapt his remark to my own situation: “When defeated, be defeated!”
In other words: Don’t fight it. Don’t agonize over it. Don’t rerun the match, blame the players, find consolations….”
Someone had to lose. The better team won. That’s it.
Be defeated. Allow it. Accept it.
As Osho once said, “Existence is under no obligation to fulfill your expectations.”
Ha! How true.
In the post-match analysis, commentators were already creating hopes for England in the World Cup tournament in two years’ time. But I didn’t go down that road. I stayed with the feeling of defeat. It was hard to just stay there, without trying to wriggle away from it.
But it was real. It was true. And, slowly, it was relaxing, bringing sleep and peace.
And I understood for the umpteenth time, the existential bottom line:
When I am identified with anything – a nation, a team, a cause – I am dependent for my sense of self-esteem and happiness on its success or failure.
This time, I just couldn’t help myself. I got swept along with the crowd.
Next time… who knows?
In any case, in a couple of days, I return to Denmark.
Quiet, modest, neutral Denmark.
A good place to meditate and let the drama go.