The cool thing about life is that you come to it open. None of us are born knowing how to do much of anything. That’s also the sucky part about life, everything worth doing takes a good chunk of time to learn to do well. I study Kung Fu. Today, my teacher had us stand in “square horse” stance (a low squat) with our hands raised as though our palms were supporting the ceiling. Try it; it’s not easy or pleasant. He left us that way, eyes closed, theoretically focused on our breathing for what felt like enough time to walk three blocks, drink a coffee, make dinner plans, and do his taxes. It was probably one minute.
The entire time, I kept trying to focus on my breathing, trying to get my mind to stop talking about my surfing plans, about going out to dinner this evening, about my novel, about how much my legs hurt, about the crazy dream I had last night etc. Sometimes when I train, I get to the state he was trying to get us to. It’s the one the martial artists, yogis, and Buddhist folk are always talking about: a quiet, empty state of mind. It’s empty of these crazy thoughts and worries, but it’s full at the same time. It’s full of what you are doing, full of the present moment. It’s a wonderful state, and theoretically as a martial artist that’s the state I’m supposed to be in when I am training. It wasn’t happening today.
After kung fu, I met some friends and went surfing. The waves were awful, the water was frigid, and it was raining icicles. A guy near us got too cold and had to get into shore, but couldn’t paddle himself there on his boogie board. I agreed to help paddle him in. At first, it was awkward, bumping into each other between every stroke, my shoulders burned, and I kept swallowing water. I wondered why on earth I was trying to be the “good samaritan”. But then something happened. My mind stopped jabbering. My body never stopped hurting, I didn’t stop gulping down mouthfuls of salt water, but it all ceased to matter.
I had entered that empty/full state. I recognized it and focused on my breathing. I focused on my strokes. The farther we went, the more powerful and relaxed I felt instead of more tired and frustrated. I think I see now why there is so much encouragement to train this way. By training for it, and grasping that state for brief periods while standing around in square horse stance (or whatever you do), you can recognize it and hold onto it when you really need it.
I’m sure people who don’t study martial arts have experienced this. Whether your passion is writing, coding, cooking, dog training, running, singing, sewing or baking, you have those moments where everything around you fades away, when you’re totally “in the zone” and hours slip by while you’re focused on what you do. Try to always maintain that focus while you’re honing your craft and your skills. And when you need it most, it will not fail you.