Tag Archives: Zen

Dropping Ashes on the Buddha: The Teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn by Stephen Mitchell


  1. A compilation of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s exchanges with American students

Key Takeaways

  1. Outside and inside are one. This is Zen mind
  2. All made of same substance – has no name, no form. 
  3. Zen is understanding self
  4. Mind like a mirror. Simply reflecting what is
  5. Must develop no-thinking, no-attachment, no-desire mind

What I got out of it

  1. A Western-mind friendly dive into Zen Buddhism but I didn’t find it as deep or useful as some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s work (here and here

Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way of Baseball by Sadaharu Oh, David Falkner


  1. Sadaharu Oh, one of the all time leading home run hitters, describes his journey towards mastery

Key Takeaways

  1. Oh’s proudest accomplishment and what he admires most is durability, endurance, spirit-discipline. Like he and Lou Gehrig had 
  2. Because of his profession, he was asked all sorts of questions about war and peace, politics and more. A man who has chased a little white ball his entire life should not be held as an Oracle from the Buddha 
  3. Baseball was a form of spirit discipline. A way to make myself a better person – although I surely never sought discipline for such a reason. It became my Way, as a tea ceremony or flower arranging or the making of poems were the Ways of others. 
  4. In his last game, he hit a home run and his opponents came out to shake his hands and bow to him. His opponents life’s his spirits and, in doing so, reminded him of something that I had spent 22 years learning. That opponents and I were really one. My strength and skills were only one half of the equation. The other half was theirs. 
  5. Practical training in skills, if done in a certain way, is a form of spirit-discipline. And in combat I learned to give up combat. I learned in fact, there were no enemies. An opponent was someone whose strength joined to yours and created a certain result. My baseball career was a long, long initiation into a single secret: that at the heart of all things is love. We are, each of us, one with the universe that surrounds us – in harmony with it, not in conspiracy against if. To live by being in harmony with what surrounds you is to be reminded that every end is followed by a new beginning – and that the humblest of life’s offerings is as treasured as the greatest in the eyes of the Creator. 
  6. I am not a religious man but I have been accompanied every step of the way by powers that are not mine alone. And so it was left to me always do make the most of the life I had. For myself and for what I am merely custodian to. 
  7. Fortune moves in and out of people’s lives like a living spirit. Because all of us are susceptible, sometimes we wind up seeing things; other times we scarcely know that our lives have been touched 
  8. A man’s purpose, my father has insisted to this day, is to be of genuine service to others 
  9. Defeat, like victory, is a passing thing. It is with you only as long as you insist on keeping it 
  10. The professional world enabled me after many years to understand that what I did everyday mattered far more than the glory or grief of a moment. I was not a “natural” hard worker. I have two in me, one is weaker, the other stronger. The weaker one always looks for a way out, wants fun and good times – and usually finds them; the other is therefore forced to work hard to catch up. 
  11. Just prior to the season, the coaching staff, as is traditional in Japanese baseball, reviewed the goals that were expected from each of the players on the team. There is no sense of contract in this, but there is a very strong cultural sense of obligation to which a player must answer. Obligation is a very powerful force in our lives – ours is a culture of shame – and the player who falls short of the goals established for him by his team runs the risk of having to answer to the sternest authority of all – his own sense of self worth. There were lofty goals for me for they seemed good targets to shoot for. However, what awaited me at the summit of my young baseball life was a three year free fall that nearly destroyed me
  12. In order to better deal with the high expectations, I adopted the slogan “take it easy.” Kawakami, a batting legend and hitting coach, and Wally Yonamine gave me their first baseman’s mitts. They were to be mine, letting me know in the strongest symbolic way they could that whatever batting problems I had were independent of my future with the Giants. I was the Giants’ new first baseman. I was very moved and obligated to them for this gesture. 
  13. Hitting is with your hip, not your hand. Imagine that your eyes are in your front hip. You can see the ball with your hip. It is difficult. Be patient and it will come. 
  14. I did not feel “easy” about this [living up to the obligation, loyalty, high standards that his nation expected of him]. I felt so stirred and fired up it took me some doing to convince myself that it was real. Oh, yes, I wanted to live up to that! I wanted to be worthy and responsible…was I confused? Confusion doesn’t begin to speak of it! But my brother taught me there was no need to make a display of feelings. I never imposed on anyone else what I was going through. 
  15. The dormitory exists for a purpose most valued in our culture – namely to nurture young people in the hard discipline of group endeavor. That a baseball team needs a sense of real togetherness is obvious, and that young people away from home for the first time need the helpful guidance of their elders is quite clear. But like everything, there is always a kind of balance between the ideal and the actual, and the tension between the two – in any culture – is how you begin to experience the particulars of a life. 
  16. Every man should have a good rival. Kitsugi saved my career even in the throes is the awful struggle between us. 
  17. The goal of zen is to become void of desire, but can a man attain such a high goal?
  18. It’s more important to do things than to brood over them 
  19. Ma, from Aikido, is space. It exists because there is an opponent. To eliminate ma, make the opponent yours. That is the real task. Absorb and incorporate his thinking into your own. Become one with him so you know him perfectly and can be one step ahead of his every movement. Make use of an opponent’s strength and yours will be doubled 
  20. After three years and much desperation, the coaching staff decided to try the one legged stance they joked about earlier. This removed the hitch in my swing and improved my timing. Oh learned absolute focus and balance in this pose – ma, ki. Immovable self discipline comes only when you master the use of ki. Acquiring the “body of a rock” literally meant having the discipline to wait. This implies far more than balance. To train one’s entire being to hold back from the tricks and feints of a pitcher, no less than from an enemy with a sword, is finally the single most important step in harmonizing one’s ki with the opponents. Ma, the interval or distance between you, is eventually that which you rather than the other create by the strength of your waiting. Everything was now suddenly poured into this subtle act of waiting. For waiting, I understood in this moment, far from being something passive, was the most active state of all. In its secret heart lay the beginning and the end of all action. In it lurked the exact moment to strike. With the ability I had acquired to wait, I now could make my contact point somewhat further back. This in turn gave me slightly more time before I had to commit myself. I thus wound up being able to see an incoming pitch till the last possible moment…Later, I got to meet Hank Aaron and learned that he trained himself to wait by measuring the pitcher’s best fastball. 
  21. I learned to focus at all times on the area just below my navel. I achieved great balance with this focus and was always ready 
  22. There was baseball in everything I did. I had this gnawing sense of fear that I would let down or be unable to play up to what I had previously done. 
  23. Baseball was with me wherever I went. There was simply nothing else!
  24. You see, Arakawa-san explained [his hitting coach and, in many ways, mentor], the better you hit, the less reason you have to think. After all, isn’t the goal of Zen to achieve a void?
  25. One day, when I went for training, I assumed my pose with the sword and methodically began my swings. I had taken only three swings that day – normally I took hundreds – when Arakawa-san suddenly stopped me, a look of pleasure glowing on his face. That’s it! That’s it! You’ve done it, he said excitedly. Done what? I asked, puzzled. It had taken all this time but you have just performed three identical, perfect swings. There is no more to do for today than to concentrate as hard as you can on remembering what it is you have done. You have finally understood. That is all I can say. You must accept this now. 
  26. Teams devised the “Oh Shift” (much like the Ted Williams shift) to try to get me to alter my swing. It was a psychological challenge as much as anything. My answer was to swing as I always did, to keep the contest of hitting between myself and the pitcher standing 60 feet away. Arakawa-san and I had reached the point where there were no tricks in what I was doing. And consequently no tricks used against us would get in our way. Nothing could stop me from hitting. I longed to hit as a starving man longs for food
  27. Arakawa-san said we would beat Babe Ruth. I thought he was joking but he was earnest. I’ll never be sure but he got me thinking and aspiring towards greater goals than I ever would have had myself 
    1. A great mentor, coach, partner helps you see possibilities greater than you ever would have on your own
  28. The door of possibility had opened. I walked through, never to go back. This was not unadulterated joy as far as I was concerned. For I discovered in this most amazing season of my life that achievement and recognition were not necessarily the same thing. 
  29. There are 4 stages in martial arts training – technique, skill, art, the Way itself. Early on, Arakawa-San likened me to Musashi but now he said I also had his ability. Musashi said that he looked up to the gods and Buddha but that he would never rely on them 
  30. It took me 25 years to learn but after Arakawa-san there was no more important person in my life that Nagashima-san (the best and most prolific player on the Giants). Learning to play with him was everything. He was an all time legend but I’m not sure I ever truly knew him. This mysterious part accounted for the tremendous hold he had on the imaginations of people in our country. It is this part that makes me think he had genius as well as talent. 
  31. In a slump, you ask yourself “why?” This is silent, never to be overheard. It seals you in the privacy of effort. My why is that I’m hungry for skill! I kept a bat and a notebook at my bedside so that if I came out of sleep with an idea, I could practice it and then write it down. I also got in the habit of simply writing to myself to raise my spirits, as I was the one I had to depend on
  32. 7 steps of my form – fighting spirit, stance, grip, backswing, stride forward, downswing, impact 
  33. My old friends come from every walk of life. They bring with them many interests and many new things to talk about
  34. Making things too comfortable takes away the challenge. And everything I do, including salary talks, has only one goal – to keep my mind focused on the challenge 
  35. All of a sudden I was one shy of the 700 home run mark and it seemed like a real barrier. I found myself trying and, in trying, trying to stop myself from trying 
  36. I never once had the idea that because I had made this or that record I could just lie back and play the star. If anything, I worked harder than ever. 
  37. In 1980 I hit a slump but it was different than before. My spirit was not there. My desire for combat was gone. I have no anger anymore. Mastery in Aikido means loss of desire for combat. 
  38. After I retired, I became assistant manager. I was ready to give what I could to younger players. I had certainly been blessed by having a master teacher, and if I could ever give just one young player a fraction of what was given to me, my role would be fulfilled. I did not ask for nor did I expect to receive special considerations based on the stature I had acquired as a player. During practice, I made it a point to pull and push batting cages around, to pick up balls, and to do other ordinary grounds keeping chores. I ate and lived among the players  
  39. I learned from Arakawa-san, my greatest teacher, that the Way is long and mastery of any sort is not easy to achieve. Above all, what I learned from my Sensei was how to wait. I believe I learned the meaning of waiting on one foot. If I understand anything in this life, it is how to wait. It is not an answer. But for me it is everything. 
  40. Nin – Oh added this frequently to autographs he signed. It means patience, or more precise, constancy. 

What I got out of it

  1. I had never heard of Sada but his story is incredible – his 3 years of struggle lead to desperation which allowed him to try something unusual – hitting on one foot. His thoughtfulness and clarity of thought are beautiful. The steps towards mastery using a Zen-like framework apply broadly (pair with Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning)

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts

  1. Alan Watts introduces Zen Buddhism to a western audience by discussing zen’s history, the principles and practices, za-zen meditations, koans, and how to incorporate into your life
Key Takeaways
  1. The western mind attaches the idea of “self” more closely to what he or she has done or was than who they currently are
  2. Must learn how to combine peripheral with linear thinking. The hunch with rationality, trusting our gut and the feel of the situation as much as what we rationally know about it
  3. The minute nirvana becomes a desire, it becomes Sankara (suffering). Real nirvana cannot be conceived.
  4. One has to know in one’s bones that there is nothing to be grasped. There is no way to enlightenment that requires any force. Must surrender completely
  5. Everything is relative, non dual. Things can only exist in relation to others. Only when we begin classifying things does duality arise
  6. All beings are endowed with a Buddha nature. We simply forget it. There is nothing to achieve, we just need to go back to our original state. To seek Buddhahood is to deny you already have it
  7. The contemplation and distinction between right and wrong is a common sickness of the mind
What I got out of it
  1. A thorough and informative history of zen and a good overview of the main themes, terms, and characters

The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance by Tom Gallwey

  1. “It is the thesis of this book that neither mastery nor satisfaction can be found in the playing of any game without giving some attention to the relatively neglected skills of the inner game. This is the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation. In short, it is played to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance.”
Key Takeaways
  1. Victories in the inner game may provide no additions to the trophy case, but they bring valuable rewards which are more permanent and which can contribute significantly to one’s success, off the court as well as on.
  2. The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard.
  3. the player of the inner game uncovers a will to win which unlocks all his energy and which is never discouraged by losing.
  4. All that is needed is to unlearn those habits which interfere with it and then to just let it happen.
  5. I was beginning to learn what all good pros and students of tennis must learn: that images are better than words, showing better than telling, too much instruction worse than none, and that trying often produces negative results.
  6. Athletes in most sports use similar phrases, and the best of them know that their peak performance never comes when they’re thinking about it.
  7. Perhaps a better way to describe the player who is “unconscious” is by saying that his mind is so concentrated, so focused, that it is still. It becomes one with what the body is doing, and the unconscious or automatic functions are working without interference from thoughts. The concentrated mind has no room for thinking how well the body is doing, much less of the how-to’s of the doing. When a player is in this state, there is little to interfere with the full expression of his potential to perform, learn and enjoy.
  8. The development of inner skills is required, but it is interesting to note that if, while learning tennis, you begin to learn how to focus your attention and how to trust in yourself, you have learned something far more valuable than how to hit a forceful backhand. The backhand can be used to advantage only on a tennis court, but the skill of mastering the art of effortless concentration is invaluable in whatever you set your mind to.
  9. Now we are ready for the first major postulate of the Inner Game: within each player the kind of relationship that exists between Self 1 and Self 2 is the prime factor in determining one’s ability to translate his knowledge of technique into effective action. In other words, the key to better tennis—or better anything—lies in improving the relationship between the conscious teller, Self 1, and the natural capabilities of Self 2.
  10. This is the nub of the problem: Self 1 does not trust Self 2, even though it embodies all the potential you have developed up to that moment and is far more competent to control the muscle system than Self 1.
  11. Getting it together mentally in tennis involves the learning of several internal skills: 1) learning how to get the clearest possible picture of your desired outcomes; 2) learning how to trust Self 2 to perform at its best and learn from both successes and failures; and 3) learning to see “nonjudgmentally”—that is, to see what is happening rather than merely noticing how well or how badly it is happening
  12. This overcomes “trying too hard.” All these skills are subsidiary to the master skill, without which nothing of value is ever achieved: the art of relaxed concentration.
  13. IT IS THE CONSTANT “THINKING” activity of Self 1, the ego-mind, which causes interference with the natural capabilities of Self 2.
  14. So it is with the greatest efforts in sports; they come when the mind is as still as a glass lake. Such moments have been called “peak experiences” by the humanistic psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow. Researching the common characteristics of persons having such experiences, he reports the following descriptive phrases: “He feels more integrated” [the two selves are one], “feels at one with the experience,” “is relatively egoless” [quiet mind], “feels at the peak of his powers,” “fully functioning,” “is in the groove,” “effortless,” “free of blocks, inhibitions, cautions, fears, doubts, controls, reservations, self-criticisms, brakes,” “he is spontaneous and more creative,” “is most here-now,” “is non-striving, non-needing, non-wishing … he just is.”
  15. When this happens on the tennis court, we are focused without trying to concentrate. We feel spontaneous and alert. We have an inner assurance that we can do what needs to be done, without having to “try hard.” We simply know the action will come, and when it does, we don’t feel like taking credit; rather, we feel fortunate, “graced.” As Suzuki says, we become “childlike.”
  16. In short, “getting it together” requires slowing the mind. Quieting the mind means less thinking, calculating, judging, worrying, fearing, hoping, trying, regretting, controlling, jittering or distracting. The mind is still when it is totally here and now in perfect oneness with the action and the actor. It is the purpose of the Inner Game to increase the frequency and the duration of these moments, quieting the mind by degrees and realizing thereby a continual expansion of our capacity to learn and perform.
  17. The first skill to learn is the art of letting go the human inclination to judge ourselves and our performance as either good or bad.
  18. First the mind judges the event, then groups events, then identifies with the combined event and finally judges itself.
  19. As a result, what usually happens is that these self-judgments become self-fulfilling prophecies
  20. Be clear about this: letting go of judgments does not mean ignoring errors. It simply means seeing events as they are and not adding anything to them.
  21. judgmental labels usually lead to emotional reactions and then to tightness, trying too hard, self-condemnation, etc. This process can be slowed by using descriptive but nonjudgmental words to describe the events you see.
  22. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.
  23. no one is ever surprised at seeing something they already know.
  24. When the mind is free of any thought or judgment, it is still and acts like a mirror. Then and only then can we know things as they are.
  25. What I have tried to illustrate is that there is a natural learning process which operates within everyone—if it is allowed to. This process is waiting to be discovered by all those who do not know of its existence. There is no need to take my word for it; it can be discovered for yourself if it hasn’t been already. If it has been experienced, trust it. (This is the subject of chapter 4.) To discover this natural learning process, it is necessary to let go of the old process of correcting faults; that is, it is necessary to let go of judgment and see what happens. Will your strokes develop under the effect of noncritical attention or won’t they? Test this.
  26. “My compliments are criticisms in disguise. I use both to manipulate behavior.”
  27. By ending judgment, you do not avoid seeing what is. Ending judgment means you neither add nor subtract from the facts before your eyes. Things appear as they are—undistorted. In this way, the mind becomes more calm.
  28. THE FIRST INNER SKILL to be developed in the Inner Game is that of nonjudgmental awareness. When we “unlearn” judgment we discover, usually with some surprise, that we don’t need the motivation of a reformer to change our “bad” habits. We may simply need to be more aware. There is a more natural process of learning and performing waiting to be discovered. It is waiting to show what it can do when allowed to operate without interference from the conscious strivings of the judgmental self.
  29. Letting it happen is not making it happen. It is not trying hard. It is not controlling your shots. These are all the actions of Self 1, which takes things into its own hands because it mistrusts Self 2.
  30. Remember that you are not your tennis game. You are not your body. Trust the body to learn and to play, as you would trust another person to do a job, and in a short time it will perform beyond your expectations. Let the flower grow.
  31. To Self 2, a picture is worth a thousand words. It learns by watching the actions of others, as well as by performing actions itself.
  32. The other possibility is to learn to look up to Self 2. This is the attitude of respect based on true recognition of its natural intelligence and capabilities. Another word for this attitude is humility, a feeling that happens naturally in the presence of something or someone you admire. As you find your way to an attitude that slopes upward toward Self 2 with respect, the feelings and thoughts that accompany the controlling and critical attitude fade and the sincerity of Self 2 emerges. With an attitude of respect, you learn to speak in the language of the respected person.
  33. What is the native language of Self 2? Certainly not words! Words were not learned by Self 2 until several years after birth. No, the native tongue of Self 2 is imagery: sensory images. Movements are learned through visual and feeling images.
  34. It is often helpful for these players to shift their attention from means to ends.
  35. Getting the clearest possible image of your desired outcomes is a most useful method for communicating with Self 2, especially when playing a match.
  36. Self 1’ s only role is to be still and observe the results in a detached manner.
  37. “Asking for qualities” describes this other kind of role-playing.
  38. When a player succeeds in forgetting himself and really acts out his assumed role, remarkable changes in his game often take place;
  39. Besides being a lot of fun, this kind of role-playing can greatly increase a player’s range. The defensive player learns that he can hit winners; the aggressive one finds that he can also be stylish. I have found that when players break their habitual patterns, they can greatly extend the limits of their own style and explore subdued aspects of their personality.
  40. Letting go of judgments, the art of creating images and “letting it happen” are three of the basic skills involved in the Inner Game.
  41. To me it makes sense to build any system of instruction upon the best possible understanding of natural learning, the learning process you were born with. The less instruction interferes with the process of learning built into your very DNA, the more effective your progress is going to be. Said another way, the less fear and doubt are embedded in the instructional process, the easier it will be to take the natural steps of learning. One way to gain insight and trust in natural learning is to observe young children learning before they have been taught, or to observe animals in the act of teaching their young.
  42. I believe that it is most important to recognize that, fundamentally, experience precedes technical knowledge.
  43. In a society that has become so oriented toward language as a way of representing truth, it is very possible to lose touch with your ability to feel and with it your ability to “remember” the shots themselves. I believe this remembering is a fundamental act of trust in Self 2 without which excellence in any skill cannot be sustained.
  44. In short, if we let ourselves lose touch with our ability to feel our actions, by relying too heavily on instructions, we can seriously compromise our access to our natural learning processes and our potential to perform. Instead, if we hit the ball relying on the instincts of Self 2, we reinforce the simplest neural pathway to the optimal shot.
  45. Bottom line: there is no substitute for learning from experience.
  46. “No teacher is greater than one’s own experience.”
  47. So the question that remains is how one person’s greater level of experience can help another person. The short answer is that a valid instruction derived from experience can help me if it guides me to my own experiential discovery of any given stroke possibility.
  48. Natural learning is and always will be from the inside out, not vice versa. You are the learner and it is your individual, internal learning process that ultimately governs your learning.
  49. My model is always being destroyed and rebuilt as I learn more and more. My technique is always evolving.”
  50. When one learns how to change a habit, it is a relatively simple matter to learn which ones to change. Once you learn how to learn, you have only to discover what is worth learning.
  51. It is much more difficult to break a habit when there is no adequate replacement for it
  52. It is as if the nervous system were like a record disk. Every time an action is performed, a slight impression is made in the microscopic cells of the brain, just as a leaf blowing over a fine-grained beach of sand will leave its faint trace. When the same action is repeated, the groove is made slightly deeper. After many similar actions there is a more recognizable groove into which the needle of behavior seems to fall automatically. Then the behavior can be termed grooved.
  53. But there is a natural and more childlike method. A child doesn’t dig his way out of his old grooves; he simply starts new ones! The groove may be there, but you’re not in it unless you put yourself there. If you think you are controlled by a bad habit, then you will feel you have to try to break it. A child doesn’t have to break the habit of crawling, because he doesn’t think he has a habit. He simply leaves it as he finds walking an easier way to get around
  54. Habits are statements about the past, and the past is gone. There may be a deep groove in the nervous system which will take your forehand on the roll-over trip if you choose to step into that trench; on the other hand, your muscles are as capable as they ever were of swinging your racket through flat
  55. In short, there is no need to fight old habits. Start new ones. It is the resisting of an old habit that puts you in that trench. Starting a new pattern is easy when done with childlike disregard for imagined difficulties. You can prove this to yourself by your own experience.
  56. Awareness of what is, without judgment, is relaxing, and is the best precondition for change.
  57. Both positive and negative thinking inhibit spontaneity
  58. Watch it change; don’t do the changing
  59. The process is an incredibly simple one. The important thing is to experience it. Don’t intellectualize it. See what it feels like to ask yourself to do something and let it happen without any conscious trying. For most people it is a surprising experience, and the results speak for themselves.
  60. This method of learning can be practiced in most endeavors on or off the court. The more you let yourself perform free of control on the tennis court, the more confidence you tend to gain in the beautiful mechanism that is the human body. The more you trust it, the more capable it seems to become.
  61. When you try hard to hit the ball correctly, and it goes well, you get a certain kind of ego satisfaction. You feel that you are in control, that you are master of the situation. But when you simply allow the serve to serve itself, it doesn’t seem as if you deserve the credit. It doesn’t feel as if it were you who hit the ball. You tend to feel good about the ability of your body, and possibly even amazed by the results, but the credit and sense of personal accomplishment are replaced by another kind of satisfaction. If a person is out on the court mainly to satisfy the desires and doubts of ego, it is likely that in spite of the lesser results, he will choose to let Self 1 play the major role.
  62. Relaxation happens only when allowed, not as a result of “trying” or “making.”
  63. Fighting the mind does not work. What works best is learning to focus it
  64. As one achieves focus, the mind quiets. As the mind is kept in the present, it becomes calm. Focus means keeping the mind now and here. Relaxed concentration is the supreme art because no art can be achieved without it, while with it, much can be achieved. One cannot reach the limit of one’s potential in tennis or any endeavor without learning it; what is even more compelling is that tennis can be a marvelous medium through which skill in focus of mind can be developed. By learning to focus while playing tennis, one develops a skill that can heighten performance in every other aspect of life
  65. I have found that the most effective way to deepen concentration through sight is to focus on something subtle, not easily perceived. It’s easy to see the ball, but not so easy to notice the exact pattern made by its seams as it spins.
  66. Not assuming you already know is a powerful principle of focus
  67. The instructions I gave students were very simple. “Say the word bounce out loud the instant you see the ball hit the court and the word hit the instant the ball makes contact with the racket—either racket.” Saying the words out loud gave both me and the student the chance to hear whether the words were simultaneous with the events of bounce and hit.
  68. It is this rhythm, both seen and heard, which holds fascination for my mind and enables it to focus for longer periods of time without becoming distracted.
  69. Natural focus occurs when the mind is interested.
  70. It rarely occurs to a player to listen to the ball, but I have found great value in this focus.
  71. Few players understand the importance of concentrating attention on the feel of the racket as they are holding it. There are two things that a player must know on every shot: where the ball is and where his racket is.
  72. It would be useful for all tennis players to undergo some “sensitivity training” with their bodies. The easiest way to get such training is simply to focus your attention on your body during practice. Ideally, someone should throw balls to you, or hit them so that they bounce in approximately the same spot each time. Then, paying relatively little attention to the ball, you can experience what it feels like to hit balls the way you hit them.
  73. Rhythm can never be achieved by being overly purposeful about it; you have to let it happen. But sensitivity to rhythm developed through concentration helps. Those who have practiced concentrating on the feel
  74. Though focus of attention helps your tennis, it is equally true that playing tennis can help your focus of attention.
  75. Attention is focused consciousness, and consciousness is that power of knowing.
  76. But it is also necessary to learn to focus awareness in the now. This simply means tuning in to what is happening in the present. The greatest lapses in concentration come when we allow our minds to project what is about to happen or to dwell on what has already happened.
  77. the conscious energy you need to perform at your peak in the now has been leaking into an imagined future.
  78. All who enter even a little into that state of being present will experience a calmness and a degree of ecstasy which they will want to repeat.
  79. Alertness is a measure of how many nows you are alert to in a given period. The result is simple: you become more aware of what is going on as you learn to keep your attention in the now.
  80. In a match it is usually best to pick one focus—whatever works best for you—and stick with it.
  81. The critical time is between points! After the last shot of a rally, the mind leaves its focus on the ball and is free to wander. It is at this moment that thoughts about the score, your erratic backhand, business, the children, dinner and so forth tend to siphon your energy away from the here and now. Then it is difficult to regain the same level of concentration before the next point begins.
  82. How to stay concentrated in the here and now between points? My own device, and one that has been effective for many of my students, is to focus attention on breathing. Some object or activity which is always present is needed
  83. when we focus on breathing we are putting our attention on something closely connected to the life energy of the body. Also, breathing is a very basic rhythm.
  84. But when your attention is on the here and now, the actions which need to be done in the present have their best chance of being successfully accomplished, and as a result the future will become the best possible present
  85. One caution about “the zone”: it cannot be controlled by Self 1. I have seen many articles that claim to provide a technique for “playing in the zone every time.” Forget it! This is a setup. It’s an age-old trap. Self 1 likes the idea of playing in the zone, especially the results that usually occur. So Self 1 will try to grasp onto almost anything that promises to take you to what everyone agrees is a wonderful place. But there is one catch; the only way to get there is to leave Self 1 behind. So as long as you let Self 1 be the one that takes you there, it will be there too and you will not be able to go into the zone. If you do, even for a moment, Self 1 will say, “Good, I got there,” and you will be out again.
  86. Another way to look at the zone is that it comes as a gift. It is not a gift you can demand of yourself, but one you can ask for. How do you ask? By making your effort? What is your effort? Your effort depends on your understanding. But I would say it always involves an effort to focus and an effort to let go of Self 1 control. As trust increases, Self 1 quiets, Self 2 becomes more conscious and more present, enjoyment increases and the gifts are being given. If you are willing to give credit where credit is due and not think you “know” how to do it, the gifts are apt to be more frequent and sustainable.
  87. I used to think that whatever was present in that state would leave me, was ephemeral. Now I know that it is always there and it is only I who leave. When I look at a young child I realize it is there all the time. As the child grows, there is more to distract the mind, and it is harder to recognize. But it, Self 2, may be the only thing which has been there and will be there your entire life. Thoughts and thinking come and go, but the child self, the true self, is there and will be there as long as our breath is. To enjoy it, to appreciate it, is the gift of focus.
  88. Here and now are the only place and time when one ever enjoys himself or accomplishes anything. Most of our suffering takes place when we allow our minds to imagine the future or mull over the past. Nonetheless, few people are ever satisfied with what is before them at the moment. Our desire that things be different from what they are pulls our minds into an unreal world, and consequently we are less able to appreciate what the present has to offer. Our minds leave the reality of the present only when we prefer the unreality of the past or future. To begin to understand my own lapses of concentration I had to know what I was really desiring, and it soon became clear to me that there were more desires operating in me on the court than simply to play tennis. In other words, tennis was not the only game I was playing on the court. Part of the process of attaining a concentrated state of mind is to know and resolve these conflicting desires;
  89. It’s difficult to have fun or to achieve concentration when your ego is engaged in what it thinks is a life-and-death struggle. Self 2 will never be allowed to express spontaneity and excellence when Self 1 is playing some heavy ulterior game involving its self-image. Yet as one recognizes the games of Self 1, a degree of freedom can be achieved. When it is, you can discriminate objectively and discover for yourself the game you think is really worth playing.
  90. But who said that I am to be measured by how well I do things? In fact, who said that I should be measured at all? Who indeed? What is required to disengage oneself from this trap is a clear knowledge that the value of a human being cannot be measured by performance—or by any other arbitrary measurement
  91. Staying in the tournament another round or two didn’t seem overwhelmingly attractive, so I asked myself a final question: “Then what do you really want?” The answer was quite unexpected. What I really wanted, I realized, was to overcome the nervousness that was preventing me from playing my best and enjoying myself. I wanted to overcome the inner obstacle that had plagued me for so much of my life. I wanted to win the inner game.
  92. Children who have been taught to measure themselves in this way often become adults driven by a compulsion to succeed which overshadows all else. The tragedy of this belief is not that they will fail to find the success they seek, but that they will not discover the love or even the self-respect they were led to believe will come with it.
  93. But as I began exploring Self 2’ s learning process in both the teaching and playing of tennis, I became noncompetitive. Instead of trying to win, I decided to attempt only to play beautifully and excellently; in other words, I began to play a rather pure form of Perfect-o. My theory was that I would be unconcerned with how well I was doing in relation to my opponent and absorbed solely in achieving excellence for its own sake. Very beautiful; I would waltz around the court being very fluid, accurate and “wise.”
  94. Why does the surfer wait for the big wave? The answer was simple, and it unraveled the confusion that surrounds the true nature of competition. The surfer waits for the big wave because he values the challenge it presents. He values the obstacles the wave puts between him and his goal of riding the wave to the beach. Why? Because it is those very obstacles, the size and churning power of the wave, which draw from the surfer his greatest effort. It is only against the big waves that he is required to use all his skill, all his courage and concentration to overcome; only then can he realize the true limits of his capacities.
What I got out of it
  1. Some great zen principles as it applies to tennis – being present, letting go and having fun, being mindful and aware and other skills which are vital in the path to mastery in any arena. Using imagery, being aware of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, body, focus and more we’re also some key concepts discussed. A good complement to this book is Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery as many of these same topics are discussed but in relation to archery.

Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel

  1. Eugen Herrigel was a German philosopher who moved to Japan in order to teach and learn the ways of Zen. This book describes his six year path of learning Zen through archery
Key Takeaways
  1. Herrigel describes the process and mentality required to truly master something – until it becomes an artless art with purposeless detachment
  2. The true experts are always humble as they realize how little they truly know
  3. Proper breathing is crucial and ties together any exercise as it provides rhythm and unity
  4. Must experience total failure before willing to give in, listen and accept teachings fully
  5. “You know already that you should not grieve over bad shots; learn now not to rejoice over the good ones. You must free yourself from the buffetings of pleasure and pain, and learn to rise above them in easy equanimity, to rejoice as though not you but another had shot well. This, too, you must practice unceasingly – you cannot conceive how important it is.”
  6. The master is as unselfconscious as the beginner
  7. Must get to the point where you trust yourself so completely that you know you do not need to think consciously about your art
  8. “He [the master] lives – and this is thoroughly characteristic of Zen – happily enough in the world, but ready at any time to quit it without being in the least disturbed by the thought of death.”
What I got out of it
  1. Beautiful book. The dedication and frame of mind one needs to become a true master of any art is daunting but admirable. Must read.

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