If the Dalai Lama ever played dodgeball, I would bet dollars to donuts he would have been damn good at it. If you’re old enough you probably remember the game from school. It’s the anxiety provoking “sport” in which the PE class is divided into teams and given a bag or net full of those large rubber balls that make a weird sound when bounced off the gym floor, a concrete block wall, or your unsuspecting pre-pubertal head. THWACK!
After being told several times by a gym teacher of somewhat ambiguous gender to “Stop messing around with the flippin’ balls” , Coach “Pat” would blow a whistle and everyone then proceeds to heave said projectiles at each other in an attempt to wipe the other team “out”. Of course if you were agile and athletic you could try to avoid the artillery barrage whizzing by your head. On rare occasions you might even catch the ball, thus putting the heavy-handed thrower out. However, for some reason the dodgeball was nearly impossible to catch and had the unusual power of turning most players into “butterfingers”. It may have had something to do with the way the ball bounced off anything it touched. In this way they slightly resembled those amazing little “super balls” you could buy at a toy store or in a well-stocked gumball machine. At first those things were a lot of fun to play with. However, once a super ball got loose outside you could pretty much kiss it goodbye. My theory is that they were made of anti-gravity molecules and flubber. As far as I know they were the only substance in the universe that bounced higher on the second, third, or even fourth bounce. But I digress…..
As somebody who lacked a strong throwing arm and was relatively small for my age, it took me awhile to perfect my dodgeball defensive skills. Looking back on it, I specialized more in the “inner game” which was far more psychological and spiritual than anything else. For example, I worked hard at developing non-violent athletic strategies like “blending in”, acting “invisible”, and making hypnotic suggestions to bullies on the other side. Like a junior ventriloquist wearing an ill-fitting gym T-shirt, short shorts and creepy “jock” I would mentally concentrate and whisper (throw my voice), ie. “Hit him. Dont hit me. I am not here” and use other Jedi mind tricks well before Star Wars ever came out. I also would assume suggestive and submissive body postures intended to make myself look less threatening, i.e., like a crippled dwarf or woodland creature lacking opposable thumbs necessary for grasping a weapon. Hiding behind gawky Napoleon Dynamite-type teammates or anyone morbidly obese was similarly meant to convey the impression that I was either not there or not worth hitting. Since the key to dodgeball is to be the “last one standing” and not necessarily to overpower the enemy with speed or merciless cunning like in other vicious and competitive childhood games such as “Musical Chairs” (ALWAYS won by girls), I thought it best to play the sport like I played the game of life. That meant operating primarily with my own physical safety and ultimate survival in mind. If somebody was “picked off” next to me by a dodgeball to the gonads at warp speed I would say to them, “Damn…sorry man!”, but I was probably thinking to myself, “Better him than me…I need to reproduce someday”.
To be perfectly honest, 50 years later I sometimes catch myself thinking the same self-centered thoughts when I hear about somebody my age (60-ish) keeling over from a massive stroke or heart attack. I certainly feel very bad about it but another shadowy part of my mind thinks, “hey, it’s a dodgeball world out there, isn’t it?” I’m not real proud of my shadow, mind you….
Sure, my chicken-shit gamesmanship in fifth or sixth grade probably made me seem like a wimpy combatant among certain John Wayne Green Beret peers, some of whom marched off to Vietnam never to be seen again, but my general philosophy back in the day was quite simple; if pacifism increased my chances of not being mowed down like cannon fodder in the Sherwood Forest/Red Oak school gymnasium… then so be it. Of course, after having children of my own (now young adults) I’ve changed my cold-hearted tune somewhat. For example, I know for a fact that I’d take a dodgeball to the head for any of my three beautiful sons and maybe even their equally adorable wives or girlfriends, especially if they remember to call or send me a nice card on my birthday.
Philosophical Addendum: So why do I think the pre-pubescent Dalai Lama would be a good dodgeball player? It’s not because he might simply levitate or make his physical body disappear and then reappear in another dimension where rubber balls weren’t whizzing by his enlightened head. It’s because he would likely employ deeper spiritual solutions to dodgeball’s symbolic portrayal of warfare and human conflict such as the dharma of the 8-fold Noble path. I could even imagine the mini-me Tibetan Lama using Buddhist understanding and advanced practice to “slow down time” and insert compassion and pure consciousness into a physical space where only anxiety, fear and emotional reactivity existed before. Thus, he would do what the rest of the world often cannot. He would not merely “pretend” to be a tree or a harmless earth worm to avoid being “hit” like I did. Instead, he would become “all and everything”, both dodgeball player and ambisexual drill sergeant PE teacher. In fact he would also become the bouncing rubber balls and the timeless spirit we all inhabit together. He, the enlightened one becomes “everything and nothing” at the same time and as a result nothing really matters beyond its spiritual essence and peaceful purpose . Practically speaking, it’s very difficult to hit somebody smack in the middle of their pure spiritual essence. You cant really put that kind of being “out” because they already accept that their existence is temporary and impermanent. Hell, even if you got lucky and hit His Holiness with a dodgeball, he wouldn’t care. Like a wise honey badger he just dont care and knows he has transcended human suffering and the cycle of life/death. I wish I could do that. In the meantime until I manage to achieve that level of dodgeball perfection, I’ll probably just continue to assume the posture of a common South American tree sloth and hope I dont get slammed in the kisser by a rogue comet, coronary, cancer or careening rubber ball.
Super ball commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0_PjJBC8gU