The Arts and the Athlete?

In a recent post I celebrated the work of Kirk Tuck, a successful Austin, TX photographer who writes beautifully, almost daily, about his work as a highly successful commercial photographer with clients in business, technology, and the arts. The article was The Sucky Side of Sports Today.

kirk-tuck-cropThis morning, Kirk posted a lovely piece, Why Are We Afraid to Make Beautiful Photographs? in which he lamented the tools with which technology has endowed us for wrecking photographs via Instagram, Lomos, Holgas, HDR, et al.

I was inspired to post a comment that I think may have some  resonance for sports.

At the risk of wearing out my welcome…thanks for this. I’m old enough, at 74, to have followed this line of thinking since way long ago. In real life I come from a long background in Eastern thought. (I’m a monk of an Eastern order.) I believe the foundation message of the East is of incalculable value for the West today, with its amazing confusion about values. Really, it’s very simple. Eastern thought asks the most basic question of all: “What is it that all people are seeking?” The answer that the sages of all cultures, East and West, have arrived at is that we’re all looking for greater happiness and freedom from suffering. Proceeding with our investigation, we find that certain actions produce happiness and others lead us to suffer. And, surprise, it turns out that we’re born with five instruments that can take us where we want to go, or get us in trouble: body, heart, will, mind, soul. Of these, the middle three are the ones we can really get ahold of: feeling, will, and mind. (The body by itself just sits there, a lump.) And when we use our “tools of happiness” expansively, we find our happiness increasing; conversely, if we use them contractively, we suffer. Expansive actions give us health, love, strength, wisdom, and joy.

Now then, when it comes to photography, my reaction has always been that images that contract my awareness, or that celebrate contractiveness, evoke feelings of betrayal. And images that celebrate expansiveness – in people, nature, animals, grass, whatever – evoke expansive feelings in me and are therefore to be greatly valued. It doesn’t mean that the apex of photographic imagery is a little girl playing croquet beneath a sunny sky. Expansive images are real – they can show painful moments, overcome. They can reveal the subtle charm of ugliness (Leonardo’s sketches). Stories that expand our hearts invariably have expansive themes. A movie like “What Women Want” shows us people who change and discover more expansive ways of relating to the world – Mel Gibson’s character can hear what women are thinking, and by expanding his heart to understand them and help them, he becomes a better man. Really, we can explore these themes endlessly in the arts. For me, it’s been a joy to serve as the main photographer for a school where the kids learn from kindergarten about the secrets of happiness. (Their grades in high school and beyond are amazing.) Okay, I’ve bloviated enough. Cheers to you, Kirk – your earthy, expansive articles lift my heart.

Students at Living Wisdom School get makeup applied before a performance of the all-school play, <em>Living Waters: The Story of Bernadette of Lourdes</em>.
Students at Living Wisdom School get makeup applied by second-grade teacher Erica Kellogg before a performance of the all-school play, Living Waters: The Story of Bernadette of Lourdes. (Photo by Yours Truly.)

Last week, I interviewed the woman who teaches kindergarten at the school mentioned in my comment. During our conversation, we talked about Shaun Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage, a book whose message has tremendous implications for athletes. Briefly, Achor, while a graduate student in psychology at Harvard, realized during his countless meetings at Starbucks with incoming freshmen, that the students who were most successful — those who got the best grades — were, surprisingly, not the ones who holed up in the stacks and studied six hours a day in hopes of mastering the Harvard system by brute force. They were the students who knew how to be happy. They were socially adept, made friends, formed study groups, and found ways to happily engaged with their studies.

I mentioned my conversation with Mahita the kindergarten teacher because the students at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto are taught from age four and five on how to be happy. And I mention this in a website for athletes because isn’t it one of the fundamental secrets of successful sports training as well?

As an athlete, I invariably found that I performed best — got the best “grades,” in training and racing when my body, feelings, mind, and soul were happy. Which is to say, whenever I found the sweet spot in my training and racing where my body thrived, my mind was content and happily focused in the moment, and my feelings were calm and joyful.

I think we should make happiness the center of our training. I think it’s worth any effort to find that sweet spot every day. And I know that it’s possible, if we listen to the silent wise whispers of the heart.

Kirk Tuck works hard at his photography business. He loves what he’s doing, but he isn’t a hermit or a grouch. He’s engaged with his clients, wins their repeat business, and cares about their success. He’s a happy guy, and it shows.



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