Waking Up


It is tempting as a learner to want to improve, to make fewer mistakes, to "succeed." But in the Zen approach to learning (say, tennis, for example), the sport and technique are just contexts in which we practice waking up.

If you want to win Wimbledon, go work hard and hire a coach. Train fancy style. And then smash your racket along the way because you are unhappy. It is joyful to me to see a professional tennis player (or any professional athlete) smile. But smiling is rare.

In the Zen approach we give up all goals to achieve. If you want Wimbledon, go somewhere else. Zen is about paying attention, just this moment, to the feel of the racket in the hand, to the breath, to the movement of the body, to the flight of the ball.

In the Zen approach, defining external goals is a way of gathering data, not of working to achieve. Here's an example: hit the ball baseline to baseline with a partner and count how many balls out of 5 hit the strings. That's all. When you get 4 out of 5 sets with 4 out of 5 balls on the strings, make the goal harder. But the whole time your actual goal is to notice where the ball hits your racket. Just this.

Practice and notice. Practice and notice. Perhaps it takes you 10, 20, or 50 tries before you get 4 out 5 sets at the target of 80%. Perhaps it takes 10 consecutive days of practicing for one hour before you reach this goal. Perhaps you get it the first time. It doesn't matter which, except to your small self. The small self wants notoriety, recognition, to feel good and proud. But these feelings (whether pride or disappointment) will likely only be reactions to our own expectations, not accurate indicators of "progress." There is no reward after each set of 5: no cookie, no Wimbledon. Just the next thing.

Now, for how many balls our of 5 are you balanced at contact? Repeat: 4 out of 5 shots until the goal is reached 4 out of 5 sets. Go. No Wimbledon. Just this.

We practice to wake up. And if we are diligent we may notice our lips start to curl slightly upward at the corners.


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