While his team-mates may spend their free time on the PlayStation or social media as they wait for FYR Macedonia’s first ever tournament match at the Euro Under-21 finals in Poland, the nation’s star midfielder, David Babunski, has other things to do.
“I write my book, take a walk and read some interesting articles on the Internet or a book," he reveals in an enlightening and thought-provoking interview with Goal. “Here in Poland, I’m currently reading a book from Joe Dispenza [on neurophysiology]. I love neuroscience.”
Certainly there are not many footballers who are interested in neuroscience, but then the 23-year-old Babunski is not your ordinary footballer. In fact, he is a total contradiction of the stereotypical footballer whose interests tend to involve money, cars and women.
A son of former Yugoslavia and Macedonia international centre-back Boban Babunski, who played in Spain for Logroñés at the turn of the millennium, David started his career in Barcelona’s youth ranks.
He spent around a decade in Catalonia and was once regarded as Andres Iniesta’s successor. In September 2015, he was included in Barcelona’s 24-man squad for the Champions League group stage and it seemed like the future was bright for the attacking midfielder. However, things didn’t eventually work out for Babunski at Camp Nou and he departed in January of last year – first joining Red Star Belgrade before moving on to current club Yokohama F.Marinos in Japan.
Despite failing to make the grade at Barcelona, Babunski is highly regarded in his home country where he was named as Young Sportsperson of the Year back in 2011. He was the leader of Macedonia’s Under-21 qualifying campaign, inspiring his country to finish top of Group 3 and eliminate a star-studded France side in the process.
It is the first time in Macedonia’s history that they have qualified for a major international finals. Ahead of their tournament opener against Spain in Gdynia on Saturday, Babunski explains why it has taken so long for his nation to make it to the big stage and the positive impact this will have on the population.
“Macedonia, one of the greatest and most powerful kingdoms that has ever existed on Earth, has been forgotten and reduced almost to oblivion by the intentions of many who envy its history,” he reasons passionately.
“Macedonians have got lost in a deeply negative and pessimistic mindset. It was not easy to convince an entire country that a change of mentality was really possible. It is a battle I have been fighting since I was a very young kid. My dream was to achieve something beautiful for Macedonia, despite all the voices around me telling me that something like this would never happen.
“Making it to the Euros for the first time brings something much more valuable to us and the whole country than just our mere qualification. It brings a new energy to the country, a base upon which we can start building a brighter future. Through football, we positively influenced people."
Babunski is quite clearly an exceptionally intelligent and spiritual person. He is a very deep thinker, who challenges the so-called norms of society. And he is preparing to spread his knowledge and beliefs via the book he has been working on.
“My book will present the possibility to achieve a radical and profound change in the human mind,” he promises.
“It reveals a series of processes by which one may expand to higher dimensions of their consciousness and step onto the next stage of our evolutionary development. I question many topics there, including religious, scientific, educational, economic, political, nationalistic and cultural paradigms, as well as social systems.
“I reflect on human nature, the mind and brain, social conditioning, the subconscious and conscious. Why have we not been able to change and establish harmony in the world despite accumulating so much experience and knowledge? Can humanity eradicate the suffering? Can a human being free itself from conditioning?”
Babunski even set up his own Facebook page called SKYSELF where he shares his philosophical thoughts. So how did he get interested in philosophy?
“We are all philosophers," he replies. “It was natural. We are all curious as children, aren’t we? I was just more curious and passionate about life.
“We are all gifted with natural intelligence. The inner ocean of wisdom one can gain access to as long as they cultivate their extraordinary cognitive capacities such as observation, imagination, self-awareness or consciousness, the ability to think, to acquire knowledge. These are our instruments for enlightenment.”
Babunski is very much of the belief that humans, as intelligent beings, are capable of much more both mentally and physically than they currently express. This forms the basis of his philosophy and spirituality as he pleads for humans to unlock their minds to their infinite potential.
“An intelligent mind is an inquisitive mind: always curious, always open to new possibilities, always seeking new fields of knowledge. Questioning, never blindly accepting,” he explains.
“Continuously learning and never concluding. Beliefs in many ways are forms of conclusions and often become chains to our limitless capacity. The only belief - if it can be described like that - I have is that a human being's potential extends infinitely beyond our wildest imagination.
“We are far more capable than the ignorance that has governed our mind for centuries has allowed us to believe. This is the cornerstone around which I develop my life work.”
When asked about his religious views and whether he believes in God, Babunski follows a similar theme, stressing that any dogmatic belief system limits humans from fulfilling their infinite potential.
“What do you mean by ‘God’? The image of God as an authoritarian entity judging from the sky that humans have created - religious dogmas inducing mass control?,” he poses. “That is one of the greatest human conditionings and many people today are still prisoners of it.
“But if by saying 'God' you are referring more to energy, to an intelligent cosmic design, to a universal consciousness we are an inseparable part of , then we have a totally different and open field for discussion. A field which quantum physics opened thousands of doors to and provided insights that are changing completely our perception of the world, ourselves and God.”
The footballing environment and dressing room is often described as very alpha-male. Footballers far less intellectual or spiritual than Babunski have been bullied in the past by their peers for holding an interest in such topics, but the nine-cap senior international claims he has never been mocked by his team-mates.
“Philosophy is the love of wisdom,” he stresses. “Most people have negative labels for the term philosophy or philosopher. A few centuries ago philosophers were burned alive. Philosophy is embedded in everyone’s life at a personal or professional level.
“If my team-mates have ever made fun, they always did it in a loving and respectful way. However, there will always be criticism. This society is programmed to discriminate those who are considered to be outside the box we all grew up in.
“We live in an era where footballers are the heroes of society in many ways, a mirror for many children. When football has such an active and massive involvement in society, it immediately becomes an important part of its culture. We can see football as a small mirror of society, revealing its morality.
“We all have a responsibility to embrace: footballers, journalists, fans, coaches, institutions. I personally ask myself: ‘how can I manage this power that society gives to me? How can I use it for something constructive, to make a positive impact on the world, to add value to the people?’”
Indeed, Babunski has already made a big positive impact on the world through his support for the human rights of refugees. He worked to find many refugees who travelled through FYR Macedonia accommodation in Western Europe.
Along with his brother Dorian - a former Real Madrid academy striker currently playing in Slovenia - and four other friends, he spent Christmas 2015 at a refugee camp in Gevgelija, near the Greek border.
“I just followed my natural desire to help those who are in bigger need,” he recalls. “This desire has always been a driving force in my life. It strengthened the knowledge that we are all one. We are all refugees. We all have moved from one place to another on earth at some point, or our ancestors have done it.”
In Eastern Europe, there have been numerous anti-refugee marches by locals over recent months. This is something that frustrates the humanitarian Babunski.
“We are all human beings and one race, regardless of our physical or cultural differences. Why is it so difficult to understand this obvious fact?,” he asks.
“It is like that because we have given more importance to appearance, forms, shapes and superficial aspects of culture than the deeper dimension of what we are. I would say it [the opinion of the general public in Eastern Europe] is not surprising when I observe the tremendously mediocre and limited education system, the social conditioning and environmental stimulations we are exposed to, especially during our childhood.
“I am worried about the lack of hunger for intelligence, wisdom, humanity, empathy, compassion, unity and spiritual growth.”
Babunski is equally critical of the ability and willingness of politicians to help society but, speaking somewhat revolutionarily, he believes that there is a massive awakening taking place in humanity that can make the future much brighter for everyone.
“Political leaders have failed to organise society in such a way that every individual has the opportunity to develop not only a decent and harmonious life, but the life of his or her dreams,” he states.
“This should be the purpose of politics, but politicians don’t have the power to achieve that, they never had and they never will. We should stop waiting for governments to fill in the blank spaces of our lives and start empowering ourselves by acquiring information and applying knowledge. There are not any political solutions to spiritual problems"
“Accelerated and drastic changes are taking place in all levels of society and humanity. There is no doubt we are entering a whole new paradigm as the old structures which sustained our world are falling apart. The rapid technological advancement and the perpetual incapability of man to live consciously, intelligently, responsibly and spiritually on planet earth have reached a crossroads. Never before have the conditions been so favourable for a new and revolutionary understanding of the world and the human nature.
“How the world looks in 20 years depends on how we collectively decide it to look. Never before has the power of choosing our future been so clearly in our hands. As long as we intelligently harness the abundant knowledge and tools available to us today, we can change our civilization.
“On the other hand, if we fail to change, we can also lead ourselves to destruction. I am personally optimistic about the future. There is a growing number of people all around the world who refuse to participate in the values of the old and deteriorated system and are already weaving a new sphere of consciousness. I believe that an enlightened and unified civilization coexisting peacefully in a world of abundance for all is possible. This is not utopia. Not anymore.”
To conclude our interview, Babunski was asked what his biggest dream in football was. Fittingly, his answer was a spiritual one.
“[I want] to transform football into a worldwide practice for the development of consciousness, an educational field for broadening the knowledge of self, a tool for social transformation and progress, a vehicle for the fomentation of essential human values and a catalyst for the spiritual awakening of the masses.”