If the Dalai Lama ever played dodgeball, I would bet dollars to donuts he would have been good at it. If you’re old enough you probably remember dodgeball from your childhood school . It’s the anxiety provoking “sport” in which the class (usually PE) is divided into teams and given a big bag full of those large red rubber balls that make a weird noise when bounced off the gym floor, a painted concrete block wall or your unsuspecting pre-pubertal head. THWACK!
After being told several times by a gym teacher of ambiguous gender to “Stop messing around with the flippin’ balls” , Coach “Pat” would blow a loud annoying whistle and everyone would proceed to heave said projectiles at each other in an attempt to completely wipe out the other team. That’s right it’s a childhood game essentially about total massacre and plucky survival. Of course if you were an unusually agile or athletic kid you could often 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 hold onto and had the power of turning most normal players into “butterfingers”. It may have had something to do with the way the ball bounced…off anything. In this way they resembled those little “super balls” you could buy at a toy store like Toys R Us or get in a well-stocked gumball machine. At first those damn things were fun to play with. However, once a super ball got loose you could pretty much kiss it goodbye. My theory is that they were made of flubber and anti-gravity molecules. 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 usual.
As somebody who lacked a strong throwing arm in elementary school and was 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” of dodgeball which was far more psychological and spiritual than anything else. For example, I worked hard at developing non-violent strategies like “blending in”, acting “invisible”, and making telepathic-hypnotic suggestions to big bullies on the other side. Like a ventriloquist in training and wearing an ill-fitting grey gym T-shirt, unusually short gym shorts and a creepy “jock” thing I would mentally concentrate and whisper to my oversized opponent (throw my voice), ie. “You will hit him. You will not hit me. I am not even here” and other Jedi type mind tricks well before Star Wars movies ever came out. I also would assume physically suggestive and submissive body postures intended to make myself look less threatening, i.e., like a crippled dwarf or some meek woodland creature lacking opposable thumbs necessary for grasping weapons. Hiding behind some other gawky Napoleon Dynamite-looking teammates or a morbidly obese schoolmate 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 just overpower the enemy with speed or merciless cunning like in many other vicious childhood games such as “Musical Chairs” (almost always won by highly competitive girls) I thought it best to play dodgeball like I played my life. That meant operating primarily with my own safety and survival in mind. If somebody was “picked off” next to me by a supersonic dodgeball to the gonads I would say to them with mock empathy, “Damn…sorry man!”, but I was probably thinking to myself, “Better him than me. I need to reproduce someday”.
Fifty years later I sometimes, to my own embarrassment, catch myself thinking the same thoughts when I hear about somebody my age (60-ish) keeling over from a massive stroke or heart attack. I certainly feel extremely bad about it but another more shadowy part of my mind thinks, ” it’s a dodgeball world out there, isn’t it?” I’m not real proud of my shadow thoughts, mind you….
Obviously my chicken-shit gamesmanship in fifth or sixth grade probably made me seem like a rather wimpy combatant among John Wayne Green Beret type peers, some of whom (especially if a few years older) ended up marching off to the Vietnam War never to be seen again but my generally self-centered survival mentality back in the day was quite simple; if pacifism increased my chances of not being mowed down like so much cannon fodder in the Sherwood Forest West Ridge/Red Oak school gymnasiums… then so be it. Of course after having children of my own (now young adults) I’ve changed my cold-hearted “me first” survival 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 but sometimes difficult to read partners, wives or girlfriends, especially if they remember to occasionally feed my ego, call every so often or send me a handwritten card on my birthday.
Addendum: So why do I think the pre-pubescent Dalai Lama would be a really good dodgeball player? It’s not because he might simply levitate or make his physical body disappear and reappear in another dimension where red rubber balls weren’t whizzing by his enlightened head. It’s more because he would likely employ deeper solutions to dodgeball’s symbolic portrayal of warfare and conflict such as the dharma of the 8-fold Noble path. I could even imagine the mini-me sized Tibetan Lama using Buddhist based understanding and advanced practice to “slow down time” and insert compassion and pure consciousness into a space where only anxiety, fear and emotional reactivity existed before. Thus, he would be able to do what the rest of us often cannot. He would not merely “pretend” to be a tree or a harmless creature to avoid being “hit” like I did so many years ago. Instead, he would become “all and everything” and both sides of the metaphysical coin including the dodgeball players (both strong and weak) and the pansexual drill sergeant PE teacher with the shrill whistle. In fact he would also become the bouncing rubber balls and the timeless spirit of the mysterious Universe we appear to inhabit together. He, the enlightened one among us would therefore become “everything and nothing” at the very same time and as a result nothing would really matter beyond its true essence and peaceful purpose . I mean think about it. Practically speaking, it’s very difficult to hit somebody right in the middle of their pure spiritual essence. You cant really put that kind of enlightened being “out” mostly because they already accept that their physical existence is temporary and impermanent. Hell, even if you got lucky and hit His Holiness with a dodgeball, he would be just fine. Like a wise honey badger human being he “just dont care” and knows that he has already transcended human suffering and the repeated cycle of life/death. Spiritually and theoretically I wish I could do that. I still suffer from anxiety, fear, anger, greed, sentimentality and lust. In the meantime, and until I manage to achieve anything resembling perfection, I’ll probably continue to reflexively assume the posture of a common South American tree sloth, use Jedi psychological tricks and hope I dont get slammed in the kisser by a rogue comet, a capricious coronary, a catastrophic cancer or a careening red rubber dodgeball.
Super ball commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0_PjJBC8gU