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Transforming the Mind ~ by Peter Shepherd



At school, even organized games become a serious matter involving school prestige and personal status, and the sheer fun element is remorselessly squeezed out. The paratelic nature of sport is misunderstood even at the level of professional sports coaching. Relaxation techniques are used as a panacea to nervousness (e.g. subliminal affirmations under light trance, autogenics and meditation with biofeedback). This does have some value as a resource, to be able to switch off and save mental energy when appropriate, but this emphasis further serves to discourage a person in the telic state from experiencing high arousal and confronting the resulting anxiety and the causes of it, and from learning to be able to reverse high arousal into paratelic consciousness. The use of such techniques in stress management and personal enhancement has the same limitations.

However high arousal is the essence of paratelic involvement, where skills are practiced without inhibitory second-thoughts and nervousness. People participate in sports as an opportunity to experience pleasurable high arousal safely, and they spectate for the same reason. Attention should be on helping the individual to enter the paratelic mode and to maintain high involvement; this requires helping him to overcome reactive reversals from the paratelic - those neurotic response-patterns that embody distorted thinking. Alongside this, the individual needs to be taught how to retain his involvement whilst simultaneously accessing telic awareness - this demands proper integration of the left and right hemispheres.

These principles would apply to any creative and skilful activity. The need for high arousal in performance is recognized in other ways, e.g. the coach will give the team a pep-talk and try and 'psyche' them up. In acting it is realized that stage fright can enhance performance. But these are both telic states; there is the hope and expectation that a reversal will occur to translate that tension into paratelic involvement as soon as the play gets going. However there is the fear that a reversal back to telic may occur at any time and an inhibitory detachment resulting in 'stage death'.

Participants in high risk sports such as motor racing and rock climbing, experience exhilaration when facing and overcoming danger (providing they are taking risks within their experience and competence, they are able to retain the paratelic state). The process of transferring anxiety and fear into pleasurable excitement composes the very essence of participation.

“Paratelic high arousal is felt to be a 'peak experience' of flowing involvement, where time loses all semblance of meaning.”
Most people will be able to identify an activity that they attempted initially with a degree of fear, only to find that as they mastered the skills involved, a pleasurable sensation ensued. For some it might have been their first jump off the 3 metre board into the swimming pool, their first attempt at public speaking, or driving a car for the first time. For others it might have been the first attempt down a stretch of white water in a canoe, a parachute jump, abseiling down a cliff face or surfing large waves. There was a reversal from interpreting high arousal as anxiety to interpreting it as excitement.

A good deal of interest has centered on the achievement of altered states of consciousness in sport. Paratelic high arousal is felt to be a 'peak experience' of flowing involvement, where time loses all semblance of meaning. The individual experiences total happiness, a loss of fears, inhibitions, weaknesses and insecurities that often plague most of us. These are moments of great maturity and fulfillment, in which there is a sense of unity, inner strength and wholeness of being. The person experiences a total fascination and awe of the matter at hand, as though he were 'absorbed' in the experience. This is the same process as experienced by mystics, artists and any person who is able to live life to the full in this way.

This reversal can of course operate in the opposite way, brought about by a sudden threat, a near miss whilst driving, falling off the board or whatever. Hence the reversals between anxiety and excitement may be short lived or permanent. Loss of form in sport is inevitably the result of motivational reversal, where the player becomes unable to sustain participatory arousal, and his attempts at high-arousal become telic anxiety.

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