George Mumford, a mindfulness teacher and author of the book, The Mindful Athlete, offers an “anatomy of the Zone” as observed in the words of top athletes talking about their performance.
The Zone, or Flow, has been described in cultures around the world, but has a special connection to the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. Flow states can, and do, happen to us all of time, from playing music to sports or just a great conversation with friends or colleagues. But with mindfulness practice, one trains the mind to quiet the internal chatter that blocks Flow. One quiets it by not attaching to it, not claiming it as one’s own or giving it any particular importance, just letting it float on by.
A mind attached to constant impulsive bits of internal chatter cannot focus. It can’t stay with a task like writing, executing a difficult play in a sport, creating art, or even listening to a loved one who is having a hard day. But we’re often conditioned in modern society to attach to our thoughts, our unique little bits of “I, Me, Mine.”
Watch closely though – which is all that mindfulness practice is, when it’s boiled down – and we see that none of those thoughts are us or ours. Our “selfing” of those thoughts, a practice which develops the habit of selfishness, can at least momentarily end. The “us” disappears, consciousness expands, and a pathway to understanding opens.
Mumford’s 7 characteristics of Flow:
- They were fully and completely focused on the present moment.
- Time slowed down.
- They could keenly intuit how the next play would unfold without thinking about it, almost like having
- Winning was not on the mind; the focus was on the journey, not the destination.– Everyone and everything seemed connected in some energetic, unified way: opposing players, referees, boat, oars, water.
- The experience transcended the physical and mental; consciousness expanded and a sense of a separate self went away.
- Performance levels rose.
- The more you practice mindfulness, the more readily you set yourself up to experience conscious flow. Put differently, having a mindfulness practice is like watering your garden: it’s the only way to make things grow.