In the moment just before the Zen archer releases the arrow to strike the bull’s-eye, all inner static vanishes with the emergence of effortless clarity. Before any action has begun, the martial arts master stands poised in infinite silence, completely centered and ready for anything.
Scientific research reveals an interesting neurological phenomenon correlated with inner stillness and grace. In every case in which this experience has been studied neuroscientifically, phase synchronous alpha brainwaves have been observed in the left hemisphere. 1
More of our innate potential is liberated whenever we experience such flow-states, because the energy normally required to maintain inefficient uses of attention is available to flow unobstructed. The question, however, is: How do we experience this Flow more often, at will?
The answer discovered by Dr. Les Fehmi, an innovator in the field of neurofeedback, is both deceptively simple and unquestionably effective: by imagining space. When inviting his clients to envision, say, the space between their ears, the same phase synchronous alpha brainwaves found in the previously mentioned studies appeared his clients’ EEG readings. 2
Simply becoming aware of spaciousness—even imagining it—evokes the natural state of effortless, open attention and repose in the present moment. Experience it for yourself right now:
Allow yourself to imagine the space between you and the screen in front of you.
Become aware of the space being occupied by your left arm.
Could you allow yourself to imagine the space within your heart?
Could you imagine the space permeating your body?
As you sit quietly, could you allow yourself to be weightless?
Could you imagine the space within your spinal column?
Could you imagine your body as pure light and disappear into it?
You may have noticed from this simple practice that you feel lighter and more open and relaxed. This spacious awareness has been producing brainwave patterns similar to those found in elite athletes while performing in exceptional flow-states.
Whereas our habitual attention tends to contract in its primary focus upon objects, the art of letting go in the moment fosters gentle, expanded awareness of the space around us and within us. It’s as simple as releasing our attention from its ingrained attachment to “things” and opening up to peripheral vision and the experience of space.
Adopt any of the following approaches to integrate more of this awareness into your daily experience:
In meditation, allow yourself to become aware of non-thought.
When thoughts arise, become aware of the space between you and the thought.
Allow yourself to become aware of the space that permeates the thought.
As feelings arise, dive into the infinite space that pervades them.
Allow your awareness to attend to the silence in which all sounds, thoughts and feelings arise.
Allow your attention to fall on the space between the objects around you.
Imagine all people and objects as being saturated with space.
The more aware you become of space and openness, the more relaxed and present you will be, the more you will entrain to the natural flow of Tao.
1 Hemispheric Asymmetry, Cardiac Response, and Performance in Elite Archers. Landers, D, et al. 1990. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 61(4)351-59.See also Pre-Shot EEG Alpha-Power Reactivity during Expert Air-Pistol Shooting: A Comparison of Best and Worst Shots. Loze, GM, Collins, D, & Holmes, PS. 2001. Journal of Sports Sciences. 19(9)727-33.
2 Les Fehmi, PhD, and Jim Robbins. (2007.) The Open-Focus Brain: Harnessing the Power of Attention to Heal Mind and Body. Trumpeter Books.