Working with an International footballer many years ago, the subject of the present moment came up. I had encouraged him to be fully present and he had no idea what this really meant practically. I encouraged him to become more curious about his moment-to-moment experience. Notice thoughts as they drift through the mind and notice the body. The body is the most sensitive machine on the planet and it responds to every moment.
After a couple of weeks, his awareness has heightened and he feared that things were getting worse. He noticed more and more the thoughts flashing before his mind. He was playing in front of 50,000 people live on television and as he dribbled the ball through midfield, was aware of the thought of what he would eat after the game at Mcdonalds. This was significant progress as he became more aware of the monkey mind.
I found myself sat on my yoga mat this morning twisted into a position designed to harmonise breath, body and awareness. The position intensifies feeling and the practice is to notice this fully and stay aware of the breath. Despite many years practice, I noticed that my monkey mind was already down the motorway I was about to traverse and nowhere near the lump of life that sat on the mat. The challenge was to notice this and bring my awareness back to life. Shifting from a monkey mind to an empty mind in every moment.
Anthony Ervin describes his experience prior to competing at the London Olympics in 2012-
Drop these thoughts. They are distractions. There’s no room for error in the 50 and distractions lead to error. It is a truth universally acknowledged that an athlete in pursuit of victory must be in want of an empty mind. My thoughts are swinging like monkeys from vine to vine.
Sport provides the ultimate platform to cultivate an empty mind and yet, it can remain elusive. As the thoughts swing like monkeys from vine to vine, we live in the midst of suffering. The Buddha proclaimed that life is suffering. Every aspect of life is suffering. The good news is that suffering is completely transformed upon knowing your true nature. This true nature, according to the Buddha is beyond the mind. Positive thinking will not work. This will merely feed the monkey on the vine.
Working with human beings in every walk of life, I meet the same suffering. The monkey swinging to different vines and patterns begin to develop. These patterns begin to feel real and they cover the true nature lying beneath. Ervin’s advice to drop all thoughts applies to us all. The first step may lie in becoming aware of the thoughts. The next is to be aware of sensation in the body. Right now. And right now. And right now.
The body is attuned to life. It is fully alive. Shifting my awareness back into the body on the yoga mat completely changed my experience of life. It brought life back to the dead. When I was on the illusory motorway, there was no presence. No aliveness. Whichever walk of life you currently find yourself, this is the ultimate journey to traverse. The journey the Buddha describes as the end of suffering.
The irony of this work towards empty mind is that ultimate performance will result. I hear a lot of talk about high performance and winning mentality. The ability to shift awareness away from the monkey gives us a level of freedom and clarity that allows the lump of life we inhabit to perform on a magical level. The ability to give every ounce of attention and your whole heart to a single task engages the ultimate powers from within. Wherever you find yourself here and now, begin this journey. Simply follow the awareness from mind to body. And beyond. Now. It will not disappoint.