Relaxed Focus . . .Wait . . .What!
When I was about nine years old my dad had a book called Zen and The Art of Archery. If my memory is unadulterated (those of you who know me, don’t laugh, it’s possible!), the theme of the book was: if you want an arrow to fly straight into a target you must avoid focusing on hitting the target. Yeah, it really said that, or so I recall. I pretended I understood the concept. I pretended I understood a lot of things at nine years old, and at thirteen, eighteen, twenty, twenty-five . . . and so on –for accuracy, look at your watch and extrapolate the algorithm out to the current date and time.
Thirty-five years later, I think I do understand what the author was trying to say. Standing Head to Knee taught me. If you take Bikram yoga, you’re chuckling. If you don’t, you’re confused. Let me be inclusive. Standing Head to Knee is a pose in which you stand on one leg with your knee locked. Then you clasp your hands beneath your opposite foot and lift that leg up until it is locked at ninety degrees. If you can maintain your balance, you proceed to tuck your head in, round your back, and touch your forehead to your knee. The final flourish? Hold it there, calmly, happily, and ignoring the fact that you are a sweaty, quivering mess. Oh, one more thing, come out gracefully and slowly. Repeat on the other side. Ha!
What does this yoga pose have to do with an arrow piercing a bull’s-eye? A lot, if you ask me (which, technically, you didn’t but I’m going to blather on anyway . . .sorry, it’s what I do).
Executing the yoga pose requires focusing on each step of the process, but releasing attachment to the result. I think of it as maintaining a relaxed focus. The simplest way to demonstrate how relaxed focus works is to list a few alternative techniques that seem designed to induce falling.
1. Thinking of what I need to do later is my antidote to balancing. I’m balancing on one foot and touching my head to my knee, isn’t that enough to think about? (See items 2-6 for the answer.)
2. Remembering that the yoga instructor believes I’m great at the posture, almost guarantees disappointment. (Lesson: Don’t worry about what other people think. You’ve heard that one before. Listen!)
3. Concentrate on the sounds and movement of other students falling out of the pose. Not exactly a template for success.
4. Related to #3: noticing the student who decides now is a good time to walk out of the room while weaving through already wobbling bodies, as though that isn’t at all distracting. If I was really committed to my yoga practice, I’d be so busy tucking my head in, or whatever, that I’d barely notice.
5. Realizing I’m the only one in the room still moving through the pose. Oh crap, they’re all looking at me. They have to be . . . right? Review lesson in #2.
6. Saying to myself, Wow, I’m doing great! Giving myself a compliment is equivalent to sweeping my ankle out from under me. I imagine it’s like the archer who pulls back her bow, says to herself, wow, this feels awesome, I’m going to hit that target in the middle. Maybe as she’s thinking the thought she forgets her technique for a moment and releases the bow before it’s time. How terribly un-zenlike!
The litany of techniques for what doesn’t work is extensive, many more than six. The list of what does work isn’t even a list. It’s just a sentence and a sentiment. It’s what all those Zen books say. And, I know because there were many lining the bookshelves of my childhood home (they’re still there). Whether they’re about archery or how to live a peaceful, joyful life, their message is consistent: concentrate on what you are doing one step at a time, do the best you can, and release attachment to a particular result.
Relaxed Focus . . .
Hmmm, maybe it works for writers wanting to get published, too? . . . Intriguing concept and, hopefully, inspiring.
As always, there will be more to come!