Every athlete speaks of being in “the zone”; a sweet spot in time during which the athlete is totally in tune with the here and now and is in optimal condition to respond to any stimulus or obstacle or challenge that may come their way. The intense emotional, physical, and psychological demands of sport bring out human beings’ most extraordinary abilities. In an undergrad honors seminar we explored the principles of Eastern religion and it became apparent to me that the zone is just a sports analogy to describe the state of Zen. The zone is really our natural state, and it seems to go away when we try and grasp it. The Zone, like Zen, is a synchronicity between mind, body, and the club. Like the sun hidden behind the clouds, the Zone is merely obscured by interference, not eliminated by it. When the clouds part, the sun doesn’t have to try to shine; its rays are constantly available whenever the clouds are not blocking them.
The experience of the Zone does not need to be and cannot be manufactured; the feeling of ease and confidence is our natural state that emerges whenever the clouds of confusion and negativity are cleared. We can use visualization, meditation, counseling, and other mental skills techniques to enhance performance, however it is rather like “an unpredictable state of grace” (Cooper). A Zen master once said that “enlightenment is an accident, but some activities make you accident prone.” So how can we become accident prone? We can anchor ourselves in physical technique and technical strategy, we can focus on the present and not let ourselves get bogged down by frustration and fear, and we can let go of the human instinct to attempt to control a situation and let nature take over.
There are six concepts by which Bhuddists follow in an attempt to live an unobstructed life. And because transcendence is essentially the state of “the zone,” why not use these Paramitas as a foundation, to prepare ourselves for the experience of “the zone”:
- The Perfection of Generosity (Dana Paramita): Love unconditionally. Love your fellow human beings, love the game you are playing, love yourself.
- The Perfection of Ethics (Sila Paramita): You have nothing to hide because you are free from dishonor.
- The Perfection of Patience (Kshanti Paramita): Face challenges with composure and tranquility – Embrace adversity.
- The Perfection of Joyous Effort (Virya Paramita): Regard failure as a step towards success with vigor and energy.
- The Perfection of Concentration (Dhyana Paramita): Focus the mind, seek clarity and illumination.
- The Perfection of Wisdom (Prajna Paramita): Go beyond the limited intellectual concept of wisdom, but live with an awakened heart, transcending perceptions.
Combine these life skills with physical, technical, and mental preparation, and you’ve got the conditions “ripe for the zone” (Cooper). Do this, and you might “accidentally” stumble upon that sweet spot in time and truly experience sports equivalent to Zen.