The practice of nondoing, nonforcing is an essential aspect of Taoism known as wu-wei. Attributed to the' great sage Lao-tzu, the philosophy of wu-wei teaches you how to develop a natural state of consciousness not bound by thought or preconceived limitations. Experienced by the greatest artists, athletes, musicians, and writers, this heightened state of consciousness, referred to as "being in the zone," is where intelligent spontaneity and effortless action flourish via a practice rooted in permitting the natural harmony of the cosmos to prevail.
Merging Taoist philosophy, Hindu principles, and Confucianism along with scientific findings, Jason Gregory outlines the practice of wu-wei as a vehicle to realize our innate freedom, revealing that when we release our ego and allow life to unfold as it will, we align ourselves more closely with our goals and cultivate skill and mastery along the way. Equating "being in the zone" with a stillness of the mind, Gregory shares meditation practices coupled with yoga exercises from Patanjali that allow you to approach life with a mastery of acceptance, releasing deluded beliefs of how to achieve success that make your mind "sticky" and poised for conflict. The author shows how practicing wu-wei paradoxically empowers you to accomplish all that you desire by having no intention to do so, as well as allowing you to become receptive to nature's blueprint for expressing beauty.
Revealing wisdom utilized by renowned sages, artists, and athletes who have adapted "being in the zone" as a way of life, the author shows that wu-wei can yield a renewed sense of trust in many aspects of your daily life, making each day more effortless. As, an avid wu-wei practitioner, he provides keen insight on how you, too, can experience the beauty of achieving an enlightened, effortless mind while reveling in the process of life's unfolding.
JASON GREGORY is a teacher and international speaker specializing in the fields of Eastern and Western philosophy, comparative religion, metaphysics, and ancient cultures. Author of Fasting the Mind, Enlightenment Now, and The Science and Practice of Humility, he divider his time between Asia and Australia.
The experience of effortless mind is something we commonly attribute to athletes, artists, writers, poets, and philosophers. This state of consciousness is not bound by the limitations of the mind, but rather finds infinite expression and laser like focus within the limited framework of our mental capacities and lives. We generally think of this mental state as being in the zone. We can sense this state when we watch a star athlete achieve the impossible or when a group of musicians improvise and feed off each other's energy to create a rhythmic synergy that nourishes our ears and inspires our hearts. Being in the zone is also the state of sustained concentration required to write a book, as I am doing right now. And yet there is an intrinsic paradox to being in the zone: in all crafts, to be effortlessly in the zone requires focused and sustained effort without any intention to achieve effortlessness within the mind. The effortless mind of the craftsman, then, is evoked by skillful effort without the intention of achieving that end. It is as though the craftsman and the craft are essentially one. Their effort is actually effortless because it is devoid of a person "doing" it; it is just happening spontaneously of itself in harmony with everything else.
The ability to focus the mind for a sustained period of time evokes the state of being in the zone, which allows us to achieve the impossible. This occurs because the conscious mind shuts down to allow the wisdom of the unconscious mind and body to take over. Muscle memory takes over, while the sense of "you" doing the task has been reduced.
According to cognitive science, the analytical conscious mind, the ego persona, what you refer to as "you," is located within the cerebral cortex, which covers the front of the frontal lobe of the brain. This part of the brain is known as the prefrontal cortex (PFC). It is a part of the brain that evolved later than many of the others in an effort to navigate through the increasing planetary obstacles we continually encountered. Cognitive science refers to the prefrontal cortex's analytical function as "cold cognition" or "System 2." Cold cognition is the cognitive control function of the mind, which gives us the ability to exert effort and discern between "this" and "that," and which formulates our opinions of "right" and "wrong" or "good" and "bad" based on our own personal experience. In our modern world the cold cognitive aspect of the mind is constantly over employed from the beginning of life through education and then throughout working life, where it is thought that if we continue to force our effort continually, we will achieve our desired result. But as we all surely know, this is hardly ever achieved, because our focus is constantly distracted by the bombardment of external stimuli.
This analytical, active part of our mind in the prefrontal cortex is physiologically expensive if it is not supported by the more primal regions of the brain that we associate with the unconscious mind. The function of the unconscious regions of the brain is known in cognitive science as "hot cognition" or "System 1." Hot cognition is the function of our mind and body that is automatic, spontaneous, fast, effortless, mostly unconscious, and thought to be emotionally driven. Hot cognition is located within the earlier-developing primal regions of the brain and is associated with the unconscious. Its spontaneous and effortless function is what makes our head turn unconsciously when we see something beautiful in the environment, maybe a hand-some man or ravishing woman, for example. And it can sometimes be a hindrance, as when we find ourselves unconsciously reaching for that piece of chocolate cake-a habit that arises from the way we evolved to seek sugar for momentary sustenance. On the one hand, hot cognition can produce all the miracles that spontaneously grow out of the mind and universe, and on the other hand it can lead us to being unhealthy (because there is an abundance of sugar that is constantly tempting us, for example). This is where the discernment of cold cognition is beneficial for our well-being.
The positive aspect of hot cognition is what drives those unconscious, spontaneous miracles achieved by many sports people; it is also what allows a musician to play her instrument without having to think about it. It is what allows artists, no matter whether they are painters, writers, musicians, gardeners, or athletes, to express the unconscious wisdom of the universe that lays dormant within our hot cognition. In all of these examples, the cold cognition within the prefrontal cortex that gave birth to the sense of "I," the personality, has shut down to allow the effortless flow of the universe to come to life. As a result, none of these creative types have to "think" to achieve the miraculous, and this is the effortless hallmark of being in the zone.
When we shut down our analytical, thinking mind, we achieve greatness. In India this is known as grace, and in ancient Asian thought it was understood that this grace comes about because of the ability to see that everything is done when left undone. Yet people were perplexed as to how a state of effortlessness within the mind can be attained with effort. Effortlessness, of course, implies no effort. As the American professor of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia Edward Slinger land has asked, how do we try not to try? In the ancient East most people were not craftsmen, and still are not, so they began to ask how they could attain the effortless, embodied skill of the craftsman as their everyday state of consciousness. People also wondered if being in the zone is beneficial, or even possible, in our ordinary lives.
In the ancient East wise people observed the mind of the crafts-men. They studied their ability to shut down their cold cognitive prefrontal cortex, so it appeared that their effort actually required no effort, as if their minds were at one with the universe's unfoldment. Craftsmen's work doesn't look like work; rather it looks as if their mind and body have been attuned to the rhythm and dance of an invisible realm that brings a real joy to their lives and at the same time inspires others.
Craftsmen have this ability to be one with their craft without the sense of a person "doing" it. This is what interested the wise of the ancient East. As a result, the documented birth of martial arts was based on the effortless mind of the craftsman. The martial artist focused on trying to cultivate an effortless mind, where being in the zone is one's ordinary state of mind all the time. The first traces of spiritually oriented martial arts, and their focus on health, longevity, and physical immortality, can be attributed to the philosophy of Yang Zhu (440-360 BCE: Wade-Giles, Yang Chu; Pinyin, Yang Zhu), who is credited with "the discovery of the body." His philosophy is known as Yangism. There is speculation that the oldest forms of martial arts in China go back to the Xia dynasty more than four thousand years ago, but there is not much evidence to support this claim, and it is suspected that these forms of martial arts were only combat oriented.
Nevertheless, the foundation of spiritually oriented Asian martial arts in its original form lay in trying to cultivate an effortless mind all the time. This is still the primary focus of spiritually oriented martial arts today: being in the zone is thought of as a state of consciousness we can be in constantly. But the problem for Yang Zhu, and for many martial artists, was that excessive effort was still required to get even close to the effortless state of consciousness. The sense of someone "doing" martial arts was still there, which essentially eclipses the main objective of the craft, which is to transform our character.
It is this sense of "I," the acquired personality, that is the primary focus in the East, because our true nature and reality can only be experienced when the "I" has vanished. The effortless mind of being in the zone is not something we can actively seek to attain, because this requires effort. Being in the zone is an art that is evoked by essentially doing nothing to attain it. From this perspective, even effort is cleansed of trying and striving, because the sense of "I" is not there. This art and wisdom goes back further than the original martial artists and craftsmen. This book focuses on revealing the origins and history of the effortless mind, as well as on how to apply this art and science to our lives. I will go back to the basis of zone thinking in order to reveal an art of being in the effortless mind all the time, as my book is an attempt to explain that the zone we usually only experience briefly is actually our true natural mind. This wisdom goes back to an ancient sage of the East and a classical text attributed to him over two thousand five hundred years ago.
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