Mindful Soccer


By Gijs Van den Broeck

Soccer in Plum Village

And that is why learning in a classroom is just one small part of our practice.
We learn working together. We learn to play soccer, basketball, together.
And during that time we create more brotherhood, sisterhood, nourishment and peace
that will help nourish us and those who come and practice with us.

A shout of “brotherhood” echoes over the pitch as the players get into position. This is not your average soccer game. This is a mindful soccer game. (Mindful soccer, really? Oh yes!) I stand amongst ten other brothers, monastics and lay friends alike.

And on the other side, eleven others line up as well. As far as there are sides in this game, off course. “The left cannot exist without the right,” Thay’s phrase pops into my head. “The left needs the right in order to exist.” No, this game is not about different sides, it is about being all together.

Football in Plum Village

As the ball is being kicked off, I bring my attention to the twenty-one people around me (twenty-two actually. The referee is as much part of this as anyone, no discrimination, whatever soccer custom might be). A feeling of wonder comes up in me. How amazing is it to be playing soccer here with the monastics (the monastics!) on a real-sized soccer pitch.

It was not what I was expecting when I set out to go to a monastery, to be honest, but that makes it all the more special. I cannot but feel a strong connection with all these people on the field and to know that we are all really here after leaving this morning all together for the soccer field in town.

Football in Plum Village

I start moving. Underneath me, my feet are walking. I feel how the studs under my feet are giving me a sense of security on the grass. I feel like a mountain, stable, solid.

My team loses the ball. I feel anxiety coming up, but I just bring my attention back to the people around me, and just enjoy their presence. This is what brotherhood is about.

Football in Plum Village

Now the ball is coming my way. I am suddenly focused. All my thoughts vanish. I just see the ball now. I just see the players’ movement. And I move with them. As if this was some sort of dance. As if we are like one river flowing.

I intercept the ball and kick it away. I do not feel proud coming up, nor satisfaction. I just feel the pulse of the game. I just feel the pulse of the other players and my heart beating with it, with them.

Football in Plum Village

“So who won?” asks one of my friends when we get back to Upper Hamlet later that day.

“The one who scored the most goals,” I say as I smile to him.

“Well yes, so who scored the most?” he asks not understandingly.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “Maybe the real question is what your goals really are. If the goal is just to kick the ball in the nets, I think our team has won. But if the real goal is to enjoy and build brotherhood… Well, I think you know the answer to that question.”

And now, we are both smiling.

Plum Village, 17 May 2014

Football in Plum Village


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