Can we free our minds from all forms of bondage? Can we master something so well that we can do it without thinking? The unconscious is identified as ‘no-mindness’ – doing something without thinking about it. No-mind is the opposite of being deliberate and reflective in what we are doing.
The emphasis upon spontaneity is found in Zen’s view of archery and art. In its approach to archery, the archer does not make the string taut and then try to release it. Rather, the string is made taut and the arrow ‘shoots itself’. This happens without the use of mind or choice. The release of the arrow just happens.
In a similar way with respect to the use of a brush for writing or painting, Alan Watts tells us ““The brush must draw by itself. This cannot happen if one does not practice constantly. But neither can it happen if one makes an effort. Similarly, in swordsmanship, one must not decide upon a certain thrust and then attempt to make it, since by that time it will be too late. Decision and action must be simultaneous.”
It’s a well-known theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a particular skill – playing piano, painting, hitting a golf ball etc. If I decide I want to excel at playing the piano, just making an effort won’t make me a good pianist. In the beginning, I will have to think about every key. It will take years of practice before I can play without thinking, to develop the technique to the point of mastery so that I can then abandon, or go beyond that technique.
“When you use your mind, and particularly when a creative solution is needed, you oscillate every few minutes or so between thought and stillness, between mind and no-mind. No-mind is consciousness without thought. “ Eckhart Tolle.
In order to reach a deeper level mastery in any aspect of our lives, it is essential that we get past the mind. Our best work is done when we are not aware consciously of what we are doing. If we have practiced our craft enough, to the point where it has become second nature to us, the mind can let go of trying to control things and then other dimensions of our being can emerge to guide our efforts.
Practice is one path to overcoming the mind. I remember what it felt like when I was learning to drive. At first, it is fiercely mental – you try to keep aware of every little detail of driving - paying attention to every road sign, checking the mirrors and blind spots, watching your speed, the other drivers, etc. It is a real struggle to mentally manage all these details at once. At some point, however, you’ve done it enough that it becomes less of a conscious activity and you can relax – you become a better driver because the mind has moved aside.
"If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all." Michelangelo.
When the brush draws by itself, good things happen…
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