In the foreword to George Mumford’s new book The Mindful Athlete, Phil Jackson says, “A lot of athletes think the trick to getting better is just to work harder. But there is great power in non-action and non-thinking. The hardest thing, after all the work and all the time spent on training and technique, is just being fully present in the moment.”
This is somewhat controversial and unexpected.
Mumford later says, “When Michelangelo was asked how he created his masterpieces, he replied that all he did was chip away to get to the masterpiece that was already inside. I believe we’re all chipping away to get to that masterpiece, even those of us who grew up in the ghetto, on the wrong side of the tracks. We all have a divine spark within us, but we’ve either crushed it, created an ingenious system for hiding out, or devised ways of being that make us feel separate”
It’s difficult to do, but we cannot forget this. It’s a different perspective — to look within instead of without. And mindfulness and being present becomes the most useful way to see within and fully capitalize on athletic potential and trust in that capability.
In this book, Mumford explores what he calls the “five superpowers” of mindfulness, concentration, insight, right effort and faith. These are things that help an athlete achieve “the zone,” a state like the one Jackson describes in the foreword.
Mumford says, “you are flooded with consciousness and are wholly concentrated on the here and now. This is the experience every athlete has when he or she is fully in the Zone. All distractions are burned away. This is pure performance at its best. This, ultimately, is the path of the mindful athlete.”
I think this pure performance reveals the passion that athletes have for their sport. And to feel this passion, there must be a drive, which is heightened by the brevity of life.
“People who are aware of the imminence of death are often the ones who commit themselves wholeheartedly to life, aware of the preciousness of each moment,” Mumford writes. “Many have a heightened sense of purpose and urgency. This is the ‘gift,’ if you will, of impermanence,”
As I’ve written before, the mind presents a great obstacle to success in sports. This is why having “heart” is commonly applied to athletes who play from a place of instinct and disallow mind games to interrupt the strengths of their game. The iconic yoga pose that has come to represent the practice is a folded position in which the heart is above the head. This is symbolic of the practice’s spirituality and the importance of forgetting negative and distracting thoughts and being mindful in a positive way.
Heart can be a lot more significant and powerful than the mind even in achieving something ironically named mindfulness.