The Champions League Final this week between Liverpool and AC Milan inspired me to put pen to paper. Yes, I am an avid soccer fan, and yes, I am going to make cosmic comparisons between a sporting event and life, the universe and our existential quest for self-understanding. But in this case they are justified...
The game Wednesday evening in Istanbul, Turkey, is already being mentioned in the same breath as words such as “historic”, “immortal”, and “truly classic”, and it will definitely go down in history as all of those things. It was quite truly the most dramatic, unbelievable result in a sporting contest that I have ever witnessed, and I can say this quite categorically despite the fact that I wear my affection for Liverpool clearly on my sleeve.
What was special about the game, and inspiring even, was that in a spiritual sense it was an example of a philosphy quintessential to the life of a truth seeker—“Never give up!”
As Sri Chinmoy put it once, “Not to give up under any circumstances should be the motto of our life: 'I shall try again and again, and I am bound to succeed.' ”
This philosophy applies most to God-Realisation, the ultimate goal in a spiritual seekers' life. Known by a multitude of terms and philosophies, God-Realisation can be described as akin to climbing Mt Everest—a thousand times over. It is an uphill journey for the ultimate reward where giving up simply isn't an option—for who would ever want to descend backwards down a mountain already half-climbed.
Liverpool this week climbed a foot-balling mountain, and they did so against impossible odds. Few would have given them a chance at the start of the competition many months ago, and even fewer gave them a chance half-way through the game, down three goals to nil and outplayed, out-thought and seemingly out of luck.
You would have been insane by any standard to seriously back Liverpool in this situation, yet no-one obviously told the players, who staged a come-back so remarkable it was close to Biblical.
For those not up to date with the result of the game, in brief it went like this: AC Milan, the heavily favoured champion Italian club began by scoring a goal after a single minute, and then two more before the end of the first half, a 3-0 score-line that should have been unassailable. At that point history said they couldn't be beaten, for no team has ever won a Champions League final from a 3-0 deficit.
Yet Liverpool did, turning the three goal deficit into three-all in six breath-taking minutes, a transformation described by some as a “formality warped into an epic”, and a change in fortune which fatally disheartened a supremely confident opposition, stumbling to defeat 4-3 at the end of the extra-time penalty shoot-out.
The game has caught the imagination of the entire European media, and probably the worlds', with many calling this the 50th staging of the event “the greatest ever UEFA Champions League final”. Not to mention the estimated three billion in 200 countries who watched it live.
Such was the improbability of the so-called “Miracle of Instanbul” that Liverpool mid-fielder Luis García even claimed divine inspiration for their success, expounding before the game “Somebody up there wants Liverpool to win the competition this year. That is why we have to win in Istanbul.”
In a spiritual sense it was akin to the victory of faith over doubt which each seeker achieves every single day of their journey. With no reason in sight to explain their belief, with no hard evidence at hand to back them up, to justify themselves to others or even themselves, they set their sights upon a goal far beyond their vision and resolutely continue.
I saw Liverpool's victory as also a victory of the heart over the mind. With neither the technical excellence or skillful brilliance of their opposition, with players almost to a man inferior, they proved that they did possess one advantage, namely heart. They simply wanted the victory more than their opposition—to a team without accomplishment and plaudits it seemed to mean far more. Like the striving of a God-seeker's inner cry, their hunger for victory saw them play with a spirit and determination which at final reckoning proved more valuable than all the skill and mental brilliance of their opposition.
There is a saying in sport which applies particularly in this case—that a champion team will always beat a team of champions. No matter the excellence of the individuals involved, their particular capacities and their achievements, it is the collective qualities of togetherness, striving and spirit that are judged to be most important to success, qualities which are on final analysis sporting synonyms for the spiritual qualities of oneness and aspiration.