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Running in the Zone

One thing that I know in my sport, and that most athletes know, is that we play best when in the zone.  For those who don’t know what that is, it’s this mental place where time seems to sit still, everything feels like it’s moving slowly (like in my sport, I see every cue a hitter gives me as to where she will hit the ball), I feel “on”, the game feels instinctual, and there is flow.  It is creative and though the game changes as I go, I just mold my game plan to it (I’m not attached to my plan), finding opportunities and ways to score no matter what I am given.  The one thing that always strikes me is that when I’m in the zone, I don’t seem to remember every single play that happened and I don’t think about every play that will happen… I am mindless, in some respects, but at the same time, totally mindful. Simply put, I’m present.

In a work situation, I notice the same thing. There are days where everything just works.  People are positive, documents get finished, time flies, yet all is accomplished, solutions are found.  And in relationships, it doesn’t feel hard.  You know where you stand, you may not know where you are going, but you trust the future.  We are in the zone and making things happen. 

 There are hundreds of books, writers, and sport psychologists making shitloads of money showing people how to get into the zone.  They give you tricks, processes, ideas, and yet it’s all to get to this coveted place “the zone”.  So what if it is actually simple?  What if the trick is actually to not TRY to get into the zone, but to LET yourself go into the zone.  But how?  What can we do to turn our minds off, so to speak?

Last year, I had one of the profound opportunities of my life.  I was face to face with  my favourite writer, Eckhart Tolle.  I actually had the chance to ask him anything I wanted, and here’s what I asked:

“How, when I believe that something matters and I want an end result, do I not think about it and just play?”

The reason I asked that question was because I found that when I was playing I would struggle with thinking too much about the outcome or the past when the game mattered.  I knew it wasn’t a state that allowed me to perform to the best of my abilities.  Simply put, my mind was getting in the way.

So what was his answer?  Well, he just stared at me.  Seriously.  He stood 1 foot from me, face to face and just looked at me. 

So here’s a little peek into what my mind was thinking during this time: 
“What’s he thinking? What is he going to say? Was my question good? Did he understand what I was asking? Am I supposed to be doing something?  Do I look away? Is this awkward?  Yes.  This is awkward.  No, this is nice.  Hmmm…”.  And then, I thought of nothing. 

Almost at that moment he finally spoke “Leah, do you know what I was just thinking of?”    No.     “Nothing”. 

Why?  How?

He said that when he was younger he spent loads of time thinking, analyzing, considering, and as he got older, he realized that he had more truth in BEING than he had in THINKING.  He was not his thoughts.  Truth was not in thoughts (and I just gave you a glimpse into some of my crazy thought patterns so this is a good thing for me!!) .  And it reminded me of a great stat that I learned about some of the top athletes in the world.  Compared to the 10,000 thoughts that normal human beings have a day, those elite athletes only had 2,000.  And they are experts in performance.  So then… less thinking = better performances?  Seems that is the answer to my question. 

So this is what I did (care of Eckhart) – for 1 hour a day, I practiced presence.  Every movement, touch, smell, taste etc. I focused on.  If I was washing dishes, I felt the hot water on my hands, smelled the soap, felt the coldness of the plate, and I took my time.  My eye was on the prize, and the prize was the moment.  If my mind wandered, I gently brought it back.  And I’ll tell you how surprisingly relaxing and refreshing this was (and I thought it would be boring!).  The notion was that if I practiced “turning on” my presence doing mundane tasks, then it would be more accessible when I needed it on the court.

If you agree that the only path to the future comes from the present, then shouldn’t we  focus on every present moment?  Like the dishes, for example.  I focus on washing them, putting them away, because later that night I will cook a meal, serve it on the clean dishes, the meal will be digested, and used for energy which will then allow me to perform on the court.  So washing that dish IS important in the chain.  Eckhart said this “either everything is important, or nothing is important”.  It’s a mantra that sticks with me. For me, EVERYTHING is important.

So, let me know if anyone has any other suggestions and ideas with how to be present and practice presence .  And is everything or nothing important?  I’d love to share and discuss!

www.vivvos.com (presently the best under?wear in the world)

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