I love watching extraordinary humans. Whether they are athletes, artists, musicians, dancers... what fascinates me is how they manage to perform at their peak, consistently, on-demand.
When we think of these people we often focus on their amazing physical abilities - their strength, coordination, stamina or dexterity. And yet the more we watch them the more we see that it is not just about their bodies, but about their mental strength, focus and resilience.
Think for a moment of a gymnast, standing by the side of the mat, about to start a routine. They pause, close their eyes or maybe gaze gently forward, and prepare their mind for the actions that are to come. This is all clearly visible, and it is often in this very moment that the success or otherwise of the routine stems.
Of course it's not just gymnasts. The same can be seen with concert pianists before they start to play, basketball players before they take a free throw, soccer players before a penalty, singers before a solo... The key is that the action is preceded by the calming and the integration of the mind and the body.
In modern sports this phenomenon is called 'the quiet eye.' It has become so important that in 2017, the European Journal of Sport Science devoted a whole issue to it. For a less academic take you can read a great overview of 'the quiet eye' in the BBC article linked here.
This clarity - this connection between the mind, body and action - is clearest in our elite athletes and artists but is something we can all practice. More than that, one of the ways I have found to help cultivate the connection between mind and body in meditation is to start by visualizing an athlete or artist, and to meditate on what they are doing. I can then, in my own imperfect way, transfer that to a feeling and awareness of integration between my own mind and body.
In the Satipatthana Sutta The Buddha says this of a meditator:
'Experiencing the whole body, I shall breathe in,' thinking thus, he trains himself.
'Experiencing the whole body, I shall breathe out,' thinking thus, he trains himself.
'Calming the activity of the body, I shall breathe in,' thinking thus, he trains himself.
'Calming the activity of the body, I shall breathe out,' thinking thus, he trains himself.
While you and I are probably not elite athletes, we can gain inspiration from them and learn from them. Great sporting or artistic feats are not done purely by the body, but by the integration of the mind and the body. This is also what we do in meditation.
I have linked below a fully guided audio meditation on 'That Moment.' You are of course encouraged to listen along with it whenever you can, but a few of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm on Sunday 2nd August. You are welcome to join us if you wish.
If the above player doesn't work for you please click here.
"Satipatthana Sutta: The Discourse on the Arousing of Mindfulness" (MN 10), translated from the Pali by Soma Thera. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 13 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.010.soma.html