In recent years, mindfulness has become a hot topic in the United States with more people discussing the idea of “living in the moment” and seemingly fewer people than ever actually doing it.
Mindfulness is the act of consciously directing your awareness to what you are doing at that moment. We have more distractions than ever in our lives today, and that has led to a society of people that seem to never be in the moment.
Let’s take a look at eating as an example. Mindful eating is not the same as being aware you are eating. For the most part, I think all of us are aware of the fact that we are eating when we are eating. How many of us though are consciously directing our awareness towards eating while doing so? If you are watching TV or looking at your phone, then you are not mindful of eating, and that can lead to overeating, not sufficiently chewing your food, or eating too quickly. Not to mention you can enjoy and savor your meal much more if you are mindful!
This absent-minded behavior rampant in our society is partially due to our smartphones - we look at them at sporting events instead of watching the game. We look at them at the movie theater and restaurants, and, my least favorite, we pull out our phones while having a conversation with someone. I know I am not the only one that has recognized this and pointed it out. There are many news articles, blog articles and YouTube videos about waking up, looking up and trying to cure the twitch of checking our phones. There are problems here that go even deeper, however. When we are not entirely conscious of our experiences and engagements, it can be detrimental to our mental health and the health of our relationships.
Let’s look at relationships for example. One of the top ways we hurt the people closest to us is by lashing out when we get frustrated. While many people will write this off as an anger management or stress issue, often it boils down to consciousness. We have to be acutely aware of every moment.
When something is not going “our way,” if we are not conscious at that moment, then we will react negatively. The reaction that comes out is resistance to being triggered negatively and things not being the way we want them to be. In contrast, had we been conscious in that moment, we could have made the recognition that “it is what it is” and we can flow with it.
This idea was discussed in a recent article by Psychology Today, and when you have a few minutes I recommend you give the whole article a read -
Here is an excerpt:
“Perhaps the most complete way of living in the moment is the state of total absorption psychologists call flow. Flow occurs when you're so engrossed in a task that you lose track of everything else around you. Flow embodies an apparent paradox: How can you be living in the moment if you're not even aware of the moment? The depth of engagement absorbs you powerfully, keeping attention so focused that distractions cannot penetrate. You focus so intensely on what you're doing that you're unaware of the passage of time. Hours can pass without you noticing.”
Learning to flow can be tough, but as martial artists, we have a rare opportunity to master it. In martial arts, we have something called “mushin.” Short for “mushin no shin," it translates to "the mind without mind." This concept is critical in fighting. A martial artist will perform at his highest potential if he can enter into a state of mind where he is fully aware and mindful of the present moment he is in but does not have to think about how to perform his techniques consciously. In fact, some fighters reach a level in which they don’t even think of which techniques to execute. They are just reacting much like your eyelid closes when something moves towards your eye.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners use this word “flow” all the time! We use it to discuss someone’s ability to smoothly transition from position to position but also their ability to flow with their opponent. In Jiu Jitsu, which translates to “the gentle art,” we try to use an opponent’s movements against him rather than resist his moves.
So while reacting in an argument can be detrimental, in martial arts it is our ultimate goal to be able to just react - except we would like it to be with the proper reactions. You see, this only works when mastery of the skill set being deployed is attained to the point that the reflexes become the techniques he’d like to use. In a fight, if thought is necessary to choose a technique, then it is probably too late. By training ourselves to determine the correct reaction, eventually, this will become our instinctive reaction of dealing with that scenario.
While in a way “mushin” may seem like the opposite of mindfulness, this type of training may be one of the strongest tools in developing it. Mindfulness takes much practice. By training ourselves on the mat week in and week out to put ourselves into a calm state of mind, ready to “flow” with a situation and react with trained responses, we are also preparing to handle daily interactions mindfully.
Exercise: Throughout this week be mindful of each aspect of our daily lives from the mundane to the exciting. Be mindful while eating. Be mindful during conversations. For those of you training, put your focus while training this week on training towards mushin. Repetition, repetition, repetition. But remember “practice doesn’t make perfect,” “perfect practice makes perfect.” So practice mindfully and get the most out of each training session. If you are at a stage of your training that involves sparring, try to enter into that state of mushin while sparring this week, but only if the necessary groundwork has gone into your training first. This is why it’s important to not rush into sparring and to develop a strong foundation first.