What to they mean, “In the Zone?” Have you been in the Zone, doing what you love, or whatever it is you’re best at? Maybe it’s running, playing music, or maybe making stock trades. We can be so far into what we’re doing that we lose ourselves in it, so that the task seems to be doing itself through us, and we’re in kind of a high, even intoxicated as we observe it all happening. People have been looking at just what this is for a longer time than most of us know – from the early-ancient philosophers to the latest neuro-science research teams. What have we learned? How can we use it?
Zhuang Tse wrote of a drunken man falling off an oxcart without injury, and noted that, if he had been sober, he would have badly hurt. I have heard – maybe you have – of people emerging unscathed from deadly car crashes in the same condition. Scientists who study such things say that the thinking side of their reflexes had been turned down by the drink, somehow letting them flow through the mishap rather than fighting against it. The sage goes on to say that if being drunk on wine can give such protection, how much more, if one is drunk on Heaven – that is, Shang, or God? He writes, “The sage hides in Heaven, therefore nothing can harm him.”
Lao Tse also writes of being so filled with life (te) that death can find no place to attack. Such a person cannot be stopped. When a student who knows the material can write an exam essay without even thinking about it. A musician will flow with the sounds and never ask where the right fret is or whether this or what type that chord is.
A lot of people say they are spiritual but not religious. One is about being, the other is doing. Who we are, and what we do. A friend of ours makes this claim. I think he means he’s not Baptist or Catholic, but his spirituality is very much his music and his friends. He practices his “spirituality,” through promoting concerts for his musician friends and by playing flawless Gershwin on his Steinway grand piano. His spiritual practice – his religion – has been very successful. When he sits to the keyboard, and surely when he is dealing with artists, agents, and venue owners he is in his Zone.
As well as I can see it there is a Tao, a Way, of Heaven, and a tao of each of us. So also there is a Te, a virtue or life-principle, of Heaven, and a te of you and me. Being in the Zone – in the Flow – with our te is what Zhuang Tse calls “Wu Wei.” I’ve read it really sounds more like “Ooo-weee,” as in, “Ooo-weee, he’s in the Zone!” A musician, an athlete, a craftsman, or a promoter – among many others – can be “in the Zone”, or experience Wu Wei,
We can go on, talking about Mindfulness and Mastery, but to get back to Zhuang Tse the goal of it all is not simply to flow with our own te, but to align it with the Te, and be “drunk on Heaven.”