Being In ‘The Zone’ Is An Ordinary Life Experience
And thus, Karl Morris opens this second conversation with Rupert for Karl’s podcast series, The Brain Booster. For some thirty years, Karl (whose work can be found at themindfactor.com) has been coaching top-level athletes towards enhanced sports performance.
He kicks off the conversation, conducted as a live webinar, by asking Rupert to give an introduction of his views on non-duality.
‘The non-dual teaching’, Rupert explains, ‘is the understanding that underlies all the great religious and spiritual traditions. In fact, if we were to sum up the last 3,000 years of spiritual and religious thought, practice, understanding, it could be summarised in this simple way: Peace and happiness are the very nature of our being. And we share our being with everyone and everything.’
The first statement – which implies that peace and happiness are what everybody seeks and loves above all else – refers to our inner life. All that is necessary to access this peace and happiness is to go directly to that which lies behind our thoughts, feelings, actions, relationships and so on. To our being.
In terms of our external experience – our activities and relationships – the non-dual understanding suggests that, at the deepest level, in spite of the apparent multiplicity and diversity of objects, people, animals and so on, there is a single, infinite and indivisible whole or reality from which everyone and everything derives its seemingly separate existence.
Karl relates his recent experience working with a gifted Ukrainian golfer, only 14 years old, who is currently playing in important European tournaments. Although the young man is fully enjoying himself and the game, Karl expresses his concern that the rigours of competition might soon dissipate that joy.
Rupert says that while the pressures of competing could likely temporarily eclipse the sense of joy, that sense is not a product of externals. It comes from deep within him. ‘There will be moments still when he is relieved of all that pressure, fear, expectation and so on, when it is just him and the game, when he’ll make contact again with that pure joy, that pure love, that is the real motive of him playing the game. Much deeper a motive than wanting to win a competition, achieve fame, success or wealth.’
This leads to a discussion of whether to view the playing-field environment and competitor athletes as foe or ally. Rupert offers: ‘Take the second of the two definitions of the non-dual understanding I gave, namely, that we share our being with everyone and everything. To put it another way, reality is one; it’s not composed of separate elements, objects and selves. At the deepest level, reality is one. Now if that is the case, then there can be no real opponents because reality cannot oppose itself . . . It must always be on its own side.’
Examples of familiar athletes are used to illustrate this point, such as the great tennis rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. The two knew that beyond the surface view of them as rivals, they were also, on a deeper level, cooperating in helping one another raise their level of play and transcend their limitations.
‘The sense of separation [expressed in this case through the view of being opponents] is a cramp, it’s a limitation on who we truly are. So, anything that . . . expands us beyond our limits will enable us to perform above and beyond any previous performance. That’s when you enter the zone, when people do things that we wouldn’t think were humanly possible, and the individual player wouldn’t have thought it possible of themself.’
The discussion then ranges over several other topics, such as whether from the non-dual perspective it is good to pursue improvement of one’s athletic performance, the importance of freeing oneself from the ‘I’ll be happy when . . .’ syndrome, and the recognition that to be in ‘the zone’ is to respond to a situation as it arises in the present moment.
The two discuss how psychological fear can frequently hamper athletes. Rupert explains how this fear ‘comes from a sense of our personal identity that we build up. That identity is dependent upon or invested in whether we win or not. Our sense of ourself is not derived from the place it should be derived from – our being – but is derived from our activities, relationships, successes, and so on . . . But our actual self, our essential being is not aggrandised by winning, and it is not diminished in any way by losing. So it is the extent to which we are established in our essential nature – the fact of simply being or being aware – that will determine the extent that fear dictates our game.’
Karl asks how people might connect daily with this sense of being, to which Rupert suggests:
‘Start by noticing that for whatever happens internally – in terms of our thoughts and feelings – and for whatever happens externally – in terms of the environment, activities and relationships – there is an element of ourself that remains present and unchanged throughout all this changing content of experience. That is simply the fact of being, or being aware. Most of us overlook the fact of being aware in favour of what we are aware of . . . So, the first step is really to take a step back from the content of experience and realise, “I’m not just this bundle of thoughts, feelings, sensations, activities, relationships. At the deepest level, I am that which is aware of them.”’
In time, he continues, we become more established in our essential nature, as that. The fear that accompanies performance, then, loses its hold on us because we are less invested in the result.
‘I don’t mean by that that we are less ambitious. There is still this drive for perfection, which manifests as our drive to win. But because our sense of self is no longer invested in the outcome, we are able to perform free of fear, free of tension, and therefore we perform at a much higher level.’
Towards the end of their dialogue, Karl asks about Rupert’s experience of being in the zone during his career as a potter.
‘The discipline [of the craft]’, Rupert relates, ‘is demanding . . . But then, if you’ve submitted yourself to that discipline over a number of years, you incorporate the skills more and more into your body. So that while someone from the outside will think oh, that’s a very skilled activity, on the inside you have no sense of being skilled. It’s almost become second nature to you and that’s . . . when you can let go of all the disciplined focus and activities you had to concentrate on in the early days. You can let go completely, and there is again this feeling that is equivalent to being in ‘the zone’ in sports . . . It’s always accompanied by peace and joy because you are aligned with the universe, you have lost your sense of being a separate individual, and you are the universe in action in that moment.’
The conversation concludes with Karl asserting that while striving and resisting diminish as we understand who we truly are, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of intentions to play well and even to master the sport one is playing. ‘Exactly’, says Rupert, ‘you still go for perfection. You can still be competitive and compete at the highest level. But your sense of your own identity is not invested in the result. You know that your essential self is in exactly the same condition before the game as it is after the game. What you essentially are doesn’t derive any benefit from the game nor does it lose anything from the game.’
Bringing it back to the topic of the evening – being in ‘the zone’ – Rupert continues: ‘Your own identity, the sense of yourself, is not invested in the result and this gives you freedom, freedom from fear, and thus relaxation. And because you are relaxed, you actually perform better than you would have done before. It is ‘the zone’ that everyone wants to be in. And ‘the zone’ is not an extraordinary state that we reach, it is the natural condition, it is being one with the universe.’
After their dialogue, webinar participants were invited to ask Rupert questions, which mainly dealt with the non-dual understanding in relation to sports performance. Included were topics such as whether there is a higher purpose to aspire to in one’s life activities, especially sport; how to further put into perspective Krishnamurti’s life motto, ‘I don’t mind what happens’; how to explore self-enquiry as it relates tennis performance anxiety; and how to experience ‘the zone’ even amid severe physical pain.
Regarding the possibility of a higher purpose, Rupert says yes there is one, and that it’s to bring the innate peace and happiness of one’s inner life out into the world in order to share those essential qualities with society. Athletes, artists, and anyone prominent in society who does so can provide a path for others to the same.
To a question about dealing with material and emotional needs, Rupert points out that our essential being is inherently fulfilled. It lacks nothing. “In my opinion, this is the great secret that everyone should know. In the depths of themselves, there is a place that is at peace and fulfilled."