In the early 1980’ies, I attended summer school in Dallas, Texas. My uncle lived there and while going to school I also practiced martial arts. It was around this time that I was first introduced to the writings of the Japanese Zen Master and swordsman Takuan Sōhō.
The writings still mean a lot to me and sum up the concept of being in a state of flow. I try to achieve a state of flow whenever I’m climbing a mountain, practicing martial arts, in a creative brainstorm or in business negotiations.
Mu shin is the state we achieve when the unsettled monkey mind stops jumping around, when we stop being self-conscious and lower our expectations. When we achieve this we become better athletes, better lovers, better employees - we perform better and we achieve flow.
Flow is the state in which we perform optimally – without being conscious about the performance. Flow is the spontaneous mind – it is the experience of subject, object and action becoming one. You cannot seek out this state. In Buddhism there is a saying: ”If you search, you will not find”. This is the power of the present – when you are fully present in the things you do.
Bruce Lee was once asked what would happen if he was attacked. He replied: “I might kill the assailant but it is not me killing the assailant – it is it.” By this he meant mu shin – the unconscious act.
If you throw a ball to someone, they catch it instinctively. If a child walks out in front of a car, parents act instinctively. They know how to act without consideration and contemplation.
All decisions are made on an unconscious level and it is the same non-action Bruce Lee refers to when he defends himself against the attacker. This is mu shin.
If you think too much about defeating your opponent, your self-conscious will interrupt and interfere with what you’re doing. “If I have to perform, I have to be good and I have to do this or do that.” – then you often fail.
There are a lot of physical activities that function better without thought. I find it amazing that we can act without having to consciously think about the action.
You might recognize the situation from when you are driving your car and you suddenly become aware of the fact that you are driving and suddenly you don’t know whether it is the accelerator or the clutch which is on the left.
At this point you simply have to let go and trust something bigger than yourself, something that you have inside of you: the sum of your experiences, your routines and your reflexes. Things will flow.
The mind flows from one action to the next – you change gears, break and park without thinking about doing it. The actions flow like a river and slowly fill every inch of the mind so there is no room for self-critical dialogue, judgment or worries.