Following is my post, as a guest blogger for Seamless Living. The original post:
There has been much talk over the last twenty or thirty years about “the zone”, specifically in the sports world, but also in entertainment, business, even education. The zone is not a place but a condition, a state of focus where everything seems to flow effortlessly and generally with high precision. The zone, so called, is nothing new, but it came to mass appreciation primarily through NBA players such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Soon many people were interested in this phenomenon which seemed to propel athletes to high levels of performance without the use of drugs.
So, what is this mysterious zone and how does the average non-super star, access it? If we look further we find the secret behind the recent popularity is mindfulness meditation. Specifically to the NBA, the secret weapon was a mindfulness coach by the name of George Mumford. Mumford was hired by coach Phil Jackson to help the Chicago Bulls. Eventually the teaching and practice spread through the NBA and other sports, to corporate America, education, healthcare, the Veterans' Administration, and prisons.
Mindfulness is a great practice and it will indeed help one find and get in the zone. I practice Mindfulness and teach it both as an aspect of Tai Chi and Qigong practice and as a stand-alone practice in its own right. And while it is a great practice and I am certainly not discounting it in any way, I will say it is not the only path to this so-called zone. For me, I prefer to see it as a component of a well-rounded self nurturing practice that also includes physical and energetic practices such as Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong, and intentional life practices that include wise dietary choices, balanced work and family life, and adequate rest. In short, the best way to the so-called zone is through skillful living.
What is called the zone is nothing other than living in the present moment. However, many of us have no idea what that experience is really like. We miss the present because we are distracted by thousands of fluctuations in the mind, fear, worry, regret, and physical stress that becomes mental stress due to bad diet, low energy, lack of sleep, and lack of exercise. Often we are caught up in mini mental dramas that only exist in our minds but affect us in countless ways, because the mind doesn't know the difference between a real stressor and an imagined one. It reacts the same to either of them. In fact, high stress is such a common experience in the modern world that many people assume it is a default condition that we all must deal with. But that is not the case. We can all learn to live low stress, or even stress-free, lives and start discovering this zone for ourselves.
The zone is a place of intense focus because when we are in that state we aren't obsessed with past regrets or making plans for a future that never arrives. It's a place of high energy and low stress. These conditions are natural byproducts of self-nurturing practices and life-affirming lifestyle routines. The best part about all of this is the ease of transition. Nothing special is required to choose higher living, it's simply a choice like any other. And the best place to start is the beginning. Investigate dietary and exercise choices; know the costs and benefits of what you eat and how you treat your body. Take ownership of your life. Be brave enough to change your behavior. It's not necessary to continue eating and behaving a certain way if you know it's unhealthy, regardless of what family and friends might think or say. Take a Yoga or Tai Chi class, join a gym, attend a workshop, learn to meditate. If you aren't familiar with these practices, try them and find what resonates with you. Once you understand the costs and benefits of your current lifestyle and that of optional paths, find what works for you and start living into it on a daily basis.
The key to intentional living is to make it who you are rather than what you do. As I say in my Qigong classes, you can't do Qigong, you have to be Qigong. Get a vision of what you consider to be your highest self, your ideal self, and live in to that vision. See yourself as what you want to become and don't allow any competing vision to interfere. Don't be concerned with who you used to be or who those around you want you to be, be who you know you really are. For the most part, we are not born into this world to be ill, overweight, stressed, addicted, anxious. We are born to be healthy and happy with unlimited potential. We each have within us, at our center, a kernel of perfection, the potential to be healthy, wealthy, happy, strong, and content. However, through all the ups and downs of life; the misunderstandings; the years of bad diet, lack of sleep, and stressful situations we begin to cover this kernel of perfection beneath our personal dramas and bad habits. But recovering it is easier than you may think. It's simply a matter of believing it, visualizing it, and actualizing it—living into our higher selves. The way is to decide and do it. The time is now.