March Madness

An action shot of the "Lady Vols" basketball team, mid-game

One of the potential spiritual lessons of sports comes in its ability to connect people—to each other as well as to a team of strangers.

Not too long ago, I was in a workshop in which we were discussing “peak experiences,” those mystical, transcendent experiences of what Abraham Maslow would call “self-actualization.” During peak experiences, it is said one finds connectedness with the universe around us—sometimes one is overwhelmed with that sense of being part and parcel of a vast and wondrous creation.

Many of my colleagues described experiences like sitting on mountain ridges at sunset, or finding deep inner peace on a meditation retreat. I thought of women’s basketball.

The date was March 22, 1999, the place: the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina. Duke faced Tennessee, who had won three national championships in a row and were, by all accounts, headed for their fourth.

I sat in the Duke section, a tiny sliver of blue in a sea of Tennessee orange. And yet, somehow, our little group managed to pull together and make more noise than the Lady Vols fans—a disparity that grew as the Blue Devils took and held the lead. Needless to say, Duke won that game, and we left elated, but what stays in my memory is the experience of connection—with the other fans as well as with the Duke players.

We could tell that our cheering helped the players on the team reach for that extra something they needed to beat the best team in the country—and again and again, they rose to the challenge, making us cheer even louder. It was a cycle of connection that brought me, at least, to a different level of being.