Tonight’s Gung Fu class has helped me figure out a concept that’s grated on me since beginning martial arts some years back.
The idea is all tied up in stereotypical ideas around ‘zen’ that have been co-opted and redefined in media references, but the basic concept is simple: live in the moment. Or, as one of my Gung Fu group put it tonight, ‘instead of being all of your experiences until this moment, just be what you’re doing right now’.
This concept has frustrated me for years. I’m fine with the idea. That feeling – which I also associate with the idea of flow – is something that’s felt great and been enormously useful every time I’ve found it. The problem I have is finding a way to learn it.
The way it’s been discussed before, flow isn’t something you can strive for. Striving for it is inherently future-focused, meaning that you’re not being in the moment, meaning that you’re not achieving flow. Rinse, repeat, etc. I found that particularly hard because it made flow something I was meant to miraculously have (which I felt that I didn’t), instead of something I could work towards. Tonight I discussed this with my Gung Fu group, resulting in a few comments that helped me make sense of it.
- One person pointed out that part of it’s an ego issue, then realised how it could sound and put some thoughtful words around the idea. I’m glad it came out raw on the first pass, because it clicked a lot with what I’m doing, both in Gung Fu and more widely. Being concerned about how something will be perceived gets in the way of actually doing it well*.
- The comment that was most useful was that I’d already found flow, and was showing it when I did the rest of the form we were discussing. As a result, I could look back at my state of mind before getting distracted, during the transition and while I was distracted. As well as being a useful way to look at it (I can’t deny I’m able to do something I’ve already achieved!), this helped me to re-think what I’m going to do to improve, which is to…
- Practice flow through observation. Smiling Mind teaches this well. Part way through most of their guided meditations, the guide will comment that you might be thinking about other things now, and that that’s fine, that’s what the mind does. Then he’ll point out that the net thing to do is just observe it happening and guide yourself back to observing the moment.
This is something I’ll try to apply in real life – instead of getting caught up in ‘fixing’ things I’ve done wrong, I’ll observe that they’ve happened and go back to doing my best at whatever it is I’m doing at the time. I’ve been doing a less deliberate version of this for a while, but only when I’m in the right mood and it feels like a smart thing to do, so doing it deliberately is a good next step.
I know a few people who read this blog have been working on meditation, deliberate observation of the world, etc. That said, the comments of people who haven’t thought about this sort of thing would be equally interesting to hear. How do you learn to let go of thoughts? Do you see a glaring hole in all of this, or has it helped you make sense of something yourself?
*Acknowledging, of course, that doing something well often means managing people’s perceptions.