In my most recent book Creating Heaven on Earth: The Psychology of Experiencing Immortality in Everyday Life, I asked the question, How does one best fashion an “internal” world, a personal identity, that creates the conditions of psychological possibility to apprehend immortality, that almost magical Infinite—conceived as something-outside-everything, God, or the Other—from everyday living? The art of living the “good life”—following Freud, one of deep and wide love, creative and productive work, one that is guided by reason and ethics and is aesthetically pleasing—requires skillful attunement to these lovely transcendent presences in everyday life.
For a number of years I have written books on the “good life” from a variety of points of entry such as, How to Laugh Your Way Through Life. A Psychoanalyst’s Advice; Theater As Life: Practical Wisdom Drawn from Great Acting Teachers, Actors and Actresses; In Search of the Spiritual. Gabriel Marcel, Psychoanalysis and the Sacred; In Search of the Good Life. Emmanuel Levinas, Psychoanalysis and the Art of Living; and finally, They Shall Beat Their Swords Into Plowshares. Military Strategy, Psychoanalysis and the Art of Living. In all of these books I was lodged in a psychoanalytic sensibility, and drew from ancient and modern religious and spiritual wisdom, to clearly articulate the details, conceptual structures and inner meanings of these everyday points of entry to creating the “good life.” Most importantly, I suggested how to best engage these activities, to consecrate the ordinary in a way that points to experiential transcendence, or what I have called in Creating Heaven on Earth, “glimpsing immortality,” a core component of the art of living the “good life.”
While working on Creating Heaven on Earth in which I wrote a chapter on sport (mainly baseball and soccer), I have become rather occupied with the larger realm of sports and I have asked myself what makes sports so compelling? I have been struck for instance by three evocative quotations, one by he great Noble Prize writer, Albert Camus, who played goalkeeper for the University of Algiers junior soccer team: “From sports … I learned all I know about ethics.” The other quotation was from A. Bartlett Giamatti, a former Yale Renaissance scholar and the “metaphysician of American sport” as he has been called, who has perhaps best captured the allegorical meaning of “home plate” in baseball. As a narrative, baseball is “an epic of exile and return, a vast, communal poem about separation, loss, and the hope for reunion.” And finally, the quotation by Samuel Ekpe Akpabot, the great Nigerian composer who reflected on soccer in his country, his quip spoke right to my psychoanalytic heart: “It can cause young men to faint, holy men to swear and strong men to become impotent for a day.”
Beyond the entertainment of watching the amazing physical and mental prowess of athletes as they compete, I believe that each sport, like baseball (The Immortal Game), soccer (the Beautiful Game), chess (The Royal Game), or golf (The Game of Civility), taken as a totality of circumstances is a “parable of life” that superbly depicts the existential challenges and dilemmas that ordinary people face as they attempt to fashion the “good life.” By viewing sports as “moral fables,” we are able to access the landscape of diverse emotions and a rich vocabulary in which sports’ connection to personal and social narratives can be examined. Sports, conceived as a magical amalgamation of visual art, theatre, civic religion, and science, have become an important resource for many to shape personal and collective identities. Indeed, whether one plays or spectates, Plato’s psychological insight applies: “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
Paul Marcus, PhD
Paul Marcus’s latest book, Creating Heaven on Earth: The Psychology of Experiencing Immortality in Everyday Life (Karnac Books, 2015), is out now.