The No Zen Zone?


A discussion of Zen came up this week in my Sports Psychology coursework. It was presented as a tool one could use to improve one's sports performance. If you just Zen that performance it will all be good.

Unfortunately, the author has it all backwards. Zen is a spiritual, transformational practice towards enlightenment. Traditional Japanese training in Zen includes traditional martial arts disciplines such as archery and swordsmanship, however mastery of those thing is incidental to the process of attaining satori: enlightenment. You don't use Zen, Zen uses you.

“The right art,” cried the Master, “is purposeless, aimless! The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede. What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen.” Herrigel, Eugen. Zen in the Art of Archery (Kindle Locations 319-322). GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The "automated" stage of motor skill acquisition may have parallels to what Herrigel's master is saying about purposelessness and aimlessness; as "reinvestment theory" (choking) might be framed as the mind's obstinacy, willful will and need to identify with and direct what we do.

Layering my westernized ideas of Zen concepts over an already existing sports practice is just going to result in more extrinsic stuff for an athlete's mind to try to "use". So I don't. However, I do like to think that when an athlete, after lots of struggle and effort, out of nowhere suddenly make a brilliant pull but still misses the lift yet still recognizes the success within the effort, maybe that is akin to a 'satori" moment. (Ah, so!)

Randy Hauer