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Archive for the ‘Zen and Sports’ Category

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At an exercise class a couple of weeks ago I saw a woman wearing a shirt with this slogan, which inspired me to look it up online. This design comes from the apparel company Chin Up, but there are many more versions. Some posters with this slogan clarify it by adding a list of things to be dropped: regrets, resentments, doubts, worries, stress, fears. Some versions include an image of someone doing yoga (which is not actually the same thing as Zen):

Then there are the versions that insert some kind of Buddhist imagery, such as a silhouette of the meditating Buddha, a lotus flower, or the ensō (circle):

These “drop and give me Zen” products coalesce around wellness, the recent buzzword that encompasses physical, mental, and spiritual health. Most shirts with this slogan are marketed as workout gear, and of course the slogan itself plays off the familiar phrase “drop and give me ten,” which is usually associated with drill sergeants, coaches, and sadistic gym teachers. By changing “ten” to “Zen,” the slogan replaces push-ups or sit-ups with something vaguely spiritual and detached, but still focused. The common conflation of Zen and yoga reflects this vagueness about where these practices come from and what they involve. They’re both seen as Eastern in a nonspecific way that encompasses calmness, intentional breathing, and spirituality. The view that athletes adopt Zen-like concentration while competing also informs the slogan’s connection of Zen with athleticism.

While the array of products with this slogan includes mugs, posters, and magnets, by far the most common kind of consumer good is apparel. A shirt emblazoned with “drop and give me Zen” presents the wearer as someone who cares about wellness in all its forms, using Zen to confer an aura of spirituality on what would otherwise be standard workout gear. To use Chin Up’s line of slogan-sporting workout tops, “drop and give me Zen” is a different message than “shopping is my favorite cardio” or “run like zombies are chasing you.”

As with other Zen products, this shirt constitutes the ever-increasing inflation of Zen in American pop culture. Whereas Zen once had stronger ties to minimalist aesthetics and cosmopolitan sophistication (though still as a commodity), it is becoming a brand accessible to more and more Americans.

 

 

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As a native Eugenian and graduate of the University of Oregon, I find myself conflicted this weekend, as the Ducks are taking on the University of Tennessee Volunteers. I teach at UT, so I’ve been feeling ambivalent about the outcome of the game. I’ve decided to work through this by comparing the Zen dimensions of UT and UO football. Zen and football may seem like an unlikely pair, but each school has its own version of this apparent paradox.

A few weeks ago Eugene’s Register-Guard published the story “A New Aut-Zen” about recent renovations made at Autzen Stadium, home of the Ducks.  These renovations, which cost about $5 million, created a new area at the stadium called “Zen North,” which boasts (among other things) two waterfalls that are the tallest and fastest manmade waterfalls in North America. Zen North also features hundreds of trees, thousands of other plants, and various structures made of salvaged wood. The project aims to ease the flow of fans entering and leaving the stadium, and enhance the fans’ experience at Autzen.

Aut-Zen

 

The “Zen” of Zen North plays off the idea of a minimalist, sophisticated Zen aesthetic, and also seems to refer to the new natural features and their intended calming effect. But do football teams really want their fans to be calm?

I’m not aware of any plans to add Zen features to Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium, but a former UT player has received the “Zen” label in recent months. Website theGrio.com describes Arian Foster as “keeping it ‘zen’” in the NFL, and Foster has received other media attention for his veganism and practice of bowing in the end zone.

Arian Foster ZenFoster majored in philosophy at UT (before my time) and the ESPN story on his bowing quotes him as saying, “I studied Buddhism for a while. […] I’m really into different types of cultures and religions. I really like their belief system, and I just believe we’re kind of all in this together as people, energies and life forces.” He explains the bowing as the Hindu namaste gesture, in which the divine in oneself recognizes the divine in others. Though I don’t know if he would identify himself as “Zen,” he clearly has some familiarity with Buddhism and Hinduism, and his veganism puts him in line with the diet of Zen monks.

Oregon might have the edge going into the football matchup, but Arian Foster gives Tennessee the win in the Zen contest: multi-million dollar renovations (Zen-ovations?) don’t compare to Foster’s actual knowledge of Buddhism. Judging these two teams in a Zen contest might not seem very Zen, but then again neither does football. Perhaps the paradox of “Zen football” can be its own koan: may the most Zen team win.

 

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