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Peak Performance: Sports and the Mind
Craig Lambert

Craig Lambert grew up in a small town in the countryside of New Jersey where seeing someone row so much as a dinghy was an event out of the ordinary. Sportsminded but even more studious, Lambert made his way to Harvard University in 1966 where he became the coxswain for the freshman crew. He has rowed ever since, and like a watermark it defines him -- in his life, his pursuits, and his writing. The author of Mind Over Water, Lambert's passion for rowing has led him to a deeper understanding of some of life's fundamentals.

"Rowing is a very rhythmic sport. It's one that requires you to perform the same motion over and over again. And it's a very unitary motion when you're doing it right. It's done in rhythm with your breath. And because of that, the rowing stroke can become almost like a mantra in meditation, a fixed point that you go back to over and over again. And to do that for awhile settles your mind down terrifically.

"Single sculls are very narrow boats. They can weigh as little as 31 pounds. They don't have keels. So they're very tippy, they're very unstable. So when you are in a single you have to bear in mind that balance is something you have to achieve.

"In rowing we see lots of different balances. There's a balance between individuality and teamwork, between discipline and freedom. Cooperation versus competition. And so balance is not only a physical thing, but it's something that pertains to really almost all aspects of individual and social experience.

"So much of high performance in any sport, including rowing, comes from being really present, really being in the here and now, being with your boat, with your oar, with your crewmates, being where you are and not having competing chatter in your mind going on. I refer to it as the signal to noise ratio. You want more signal and less noise.

"Your shell is an index of how your mind is doing. If you have a wiggling and waggling shell it will mean that your mind is wiggling and waggling, too. If you have a calm and settled boat it reflects a mental state that's calm and settled. And so you can actually look at your boat to see how your mind is doing.

"Rowers use the term 'swing' to refer to that magical kind of condition, those moments when the boat seems to fly over the water. It can feel as if there were just one oar, one rower, and you are so unified that there is no friction. You can almost feel the bow of the boat surging up out of the water as if the boat wanted to fly.

"Swing is a state where the distractions of the ego kind of melt away and the separation between crew members can melt away. You're rowing as if with one body; you are rowing as if with one mind. And when you're rowing with one mind there is no resistance.

"The idea that I think is fundamental to any spiritual practice is the transcendence of the individual ego. That's the state of spiritual growth, and there are many paths to that. Meditation is one that has been used for thousands of years. A path of service is something that can do it. And athletics offer a certain kind of path to service."

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Body & Soul is currently airing Monday-Friday at 7:00pm and 8:30pm on PBS YOU.

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