Man walking on the top of a mountain

Eastern psychology (Zen), the Bible, and what Sports Psychology calls, “Being in the Zone”

For those who may struggle to understand what it feels like to have the Holy Spirit with you, we explore three, overlapping descriptions… Eastern psychology (Zen), the Bible, and what Sports Psychology calls, “Being in the Zone”.

Many of the Zen teachings and corresponding biblical quotes resonate with principles and practices in sports psychology. “Being in the Zone,” also known as “Flow State,” in sports psychology is a mental state in which an individual performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment.

The parallels between this state and the teachings of Zen Buddhism are evident in several ways:

1. **Mindfulness**: Sports psychology often emphasizes mindfulness, or being fully present in the moment, which aids athletes in focusing on their current performance rather than worrying about past mistakes or future outcomes.

This aligns with the Zen concept of mindfulness and the biblical reference of focusing on the present day (Matthew 6:34). “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

Being in the zone requires intense focus on the present moment, just as mindfulness emphasizes full awareness and presence in the current activity.

2. **Acceptance**: Athletes are often encouraged to accept and adapt to their current circumstances rather than resist or deny them.

This acceptance can foster resilience, mirroring the Zen principle of acceptance and the teachings from Philippians 4:11, “for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

Athletes in the zone accept and adapt to circumstances as they come, staying flexible and responsive – much like the Zen teaching of acceptance.

3. **Non-Attachment**: In sports psychology, athletes are advised not to become overly attached to outcomes but to focus on the process instead, which is similar to the Zen principle of non-attachment and the biblical wisdom from Matthew 6:19-21,

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

When in the zone, athletes are not overly concerned about the outcome; they are immersed in the process. This aligns with the Zen principle of non-attachment.

team with arms in the middle

4. **Interconnectedness**: Teamwork and understanding the role of each member are fundamental aspects of sports psychology. This concept parallels the Zen teaching of interconnectedness and the idea expressed in 1 Corinthians 12:12 “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”

In team sports, being in the zone often involves a deep connection and seamless cooperation with team members, reflecting the Zen principle of interconnectedness.

5. **Beginner’s Mind (Shoshin)**: Athletes are often encouraged to maintain a beginner’s mindset, open to learning and growth. This concept aligns with the Zen principle of Shoshin and the biblical teaching from Matthew 18:3, “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Athletes in the zone are open and receptive, adapting quickly and learning continually, similar to maintaining a beginner’s mind.

6. **Simplicity**: Athletes are trained to focus on the essential elements of their performance, eliminating distractions. This practice mirrors the Zen value of simplicity and the biblical reference to singularity of focus (Matthew 6:22). ”The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”

Man's eye

When athletes are in the zone, their actions seem simple and fluid, with unnecessary complexities and distractions eliminated, echoing the Zen value of simplicity.

7. **Compassion**: Sports psychology emphasizes the importance of self-compassion in dealing with challenges and setbacks, which aligns with the Zen teaching of compassion and the commandment from Matthew 22:39.

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Athletes in the zone often report a deep sense of peace and contentment, even in the face of adversity, aligning with the Zen teaching of compassion.

8. **Meditation (Zazen)**: Techniques such as relaxation and visualization are widely used in sports psychology, paralleling the Zen practice of meditation and the biblical advice to be still (Psalms 46:10).”Be still, and know that I am God”.

Achieving the zone can be facilitated by meditation practices that enhance focus, calmness, and mental clarity, reflecting Zen meditation.

9. **Impermanence**: Athletes are taught to accept change as a part of their journey, learning from losses and not becoming overly complacent with victories.

This aligns with the Zen understanding of impermanence and the biblical teaching from 2 Corinthians 4:18. “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Understanding that the state of being in the zone is temporary and fluid can help athletes to accept the natural ebb and flow of performance, aligning with the Zen teaching of impermanence.

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The similarities between “Being in the Zone” and “Having the Holy Spirit”

The concept of “Having the Holy Spirit” is often described as a profound sense of spiritual connection, guidance, and empowerment from God. It’s often associated with a deep sense of peace, wisdom, understanding, and love.

The links between this concept and Zen teachings or the “Being in the Zone” state in sports psychology might not be immediately evident due to the different religious and philosophical contexts, but there are some broad parallels we can draw:

1. **Mindfulness**: Having the Holy Spirit can lead to a heightened sense of spiritual awareness, akin to mindfulness in Zen or being fully present when in the zone.

2. **Acceptance**: The Holy Spirit provides comfort and acceptance of life circumstances, similar to Zen’s principle of acceptance and the ability to adapt to circumstances when in the zone.

3. **Non-Attachment**: Although not directly comparable, the concept of focusing on spiritual treasures rather than earthly ones can be seen as a form of non-attachment, much like the Zen principle and the focus on process rather than outcome in the zone.

4. **Interconnectedness**: The Holy Spirit is seen as a unifying force among believers, which parallels Zen’s interconnectedness and the cooperation seen in team sports when players are in the zone.

5. **Beginner’s Mind (Shoshin)**: Christians often speak of being born again or renewed through the Holy Spirit, which could relate to the idea of a fresh, open perspective similar to a beginner’s mind.

6. **Simplicity**: Christianity teaches simplicity and humility, echoing Zen’s value of simplicity and the uncomplicated, fluid action seen in the zone.

7. **Compassion**: The Holy Spirit is often associated with a deep sense of love and compassion, aligning with the Zen teaching of compassion.

8. **Meditation (Zazen)**: Christian prayer and meditation, particularly when seeking connection with the Holy Spirit, can serve a similar role as Zen meditation in fostering focus, calmness, and clarity.

9. **Impermanence**: While the Holy Spirit is seen as an eternal presence, Christians are encouraged to understand the temporal nature of earthly life, which could be seen as a form of recognizing impermanence.

I invite you to use the above when working to discern whether or not you have the Holy Spirit with you. 

Before engaging in conversations with others, especially your spouse and children, and most importantly, in conversations with yourself, first make sure you have the Holy Spirit with you.  It is needed to help us achieve the miracle of successful communication.

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