When I was in my twenties and recently married, my father-in-law invited me to join him for a Sunday morning golf game. I’d never played a round of real golf only the miniature kind. But, given that I was the hippy-new-son-in-law, how could I say no?
I stepped up to the first tee.
I swung. The ball lifted into the sky forming a perfect arc, bounced and rolled within a few feet of the green. I putted onto the green. And with the next putt – was in the hole. Par!!
My father-in-law shook his head in awed disbelief, “That meditation stuff must really work.”
“Ha!.” I thought. “That was amazing. He’s right. I’m going to meditate my way through the course.”
(Cue imaginary voice over: Not so fast there, Baba Looey.)
It took me sixteen strokes to complete the next hole.
That first hole had been a happy accident. I’d stumbled into the par zone. But, I hadn’t developed the capacity to sustain play at that level. Par, for me, was a happy accident.
You’ve had those happy accidents.
Times when your ability to think, act, and interact, leapt forward. Times of extraordinary performance when you tap into dormant, and often unexpected inner resources. It’s a heady, exhilarating feeling.
It’s called being in a “flow state”.
But, like all accidents, happy or otherwise, it’s not planned. Not intentional. By definition, accidents aren’t chosen. They just happen. And when you stumble into a happy accident, as I did on the golf course, it can feel like grace.
You could be in a heated disagreement.
Voices raised. Fingers pointing. And as the other person lashes out, suddenly . . . it happens. Something in you shifts. You don’t react to their attack. You don’t get emotional. You still feel the initial burst of adrenaline but something else kicks in.
It’s a different state of mind.
It’s as though you’re both in the conversation and not in the conversation. There’s a part of you, a skillful, non-reactive part – that takes over. You see their emotionality and suffering clearly. You don’t take their words or intensity personally. And – here’s a biggie - you don’t judge them.
You’re present and engaged without being caught in the drama.
You listen deeply and respond clearly. You’re focused and responsive – without needing to control or manipulate the situation. You are able to lay your cards on the table and let the chips fall where they may. Because, when you’re in the flow, there’s a deep trust, a grounded knowing that by acting with integrity in the moment – the next moment will take care of itself.
Again, these extraordinary states of flow are often happy accidents.
The question, then, is how to become more accident-prone? What would make the flow state becomes more the norm than the exception.
What can you do, intentionally, to unlock the door to this extraordinary state of performance - and the joyful feelings that accompany it? The key is to develop your attention muscle.
What is your attention muscle?
Well, it’s not really a muscle like a bicep. It’s more of a mind/brain capacity. It’s the capacity to focus awareness on a specific “object” and to sustain that focus without effort.
How do you strengthen your attention muscle?
You can strengthen you attention muscle through the practice of meditation. By taking just a short period of time each day and practicing any simple meditation exercise, you can strengthen your attention muscle.
As your attention muscle strengthens – it will be there for you in daily life.
In this way, attention is like a bicep. When you strengthen your biceps in the gym – that strength and capacity to lift weight stays with you in daily life. This is useful if you want to carry the groceries, comfort a child, or move furniture.
When you strengthen your attention muscle, through formal meditation practice, that capacity to focus, be fully present and aware stays with you in daily life – when you’re not sitting still with your eyes closed. Through consistent practice, you increase your capacity to be effortlessly present in your life. (Remember, it’s more powerful to practice consistently for a few minutes a day – than to do the occasional long session or retreat.)
A strong attention muscle allows you to precipitate a flow state by choice.
You learn how to shift from effort and willpower – into presence and flow. Engaging your attention muscle is the key that opens this grace-filled door. No longer do you have to wait for happy accidents to land you in the state of flow. You can go there volitionally through engaging your trained attention muscle.
Working from the flow state enhances performance and fulfillment.
When you’re in the flow state, you step out of your own way. Your actions, your choices, your thoughts all . . . well . . . flow. They arise from a place of inner clarity and stillness. You don’t have to “think things through”, rather, you fully respond from a place of automatic integrity. You’re at your best, precisely because you’re not second guessing, self-assessing, judging and comparing. Your skills rise to a higher level. And it’s more fun.
You start to recognize that happy accidents don’t have to be accidental.
You see that the opportunity to flow, to be effortlessly engaged, to tap into the reservoir of wisdom and creativity is . . . ever-present. The flow state isn’t some far away, magical land. It’s right here, right now – available in the exact conditions of your life.
And, you see that rather than struggle against conditions – you can engage with effortless focus.
You can let go of controlling and manipulating experience, to allow deeper and more skillful ways of being to shine through. Your work, your relationships, your health . . . every domain of experience, is enhanced as your attention muscle develops.
It’s also useful on the golf course - as long as you’re not trying to impress your father-in-law.
Love & Shanti,
E & D
This week we’re offering the following live stream meditations:
Gather to Awaken on Friday at 11 am Pacific
These are 30 minute meditations to end the week with peace and presence.
Sunday Meditation at 10 am Pacific
We’ve been offering these 60-minute practices for 40 years. Please join us for chanting, meditation, a dharma message, and silent blessings.
Find all the log-in information here.