Keep Calm and Mushin On

In Zen, there is a concept known as mushin no shin, or the mind without mind. In The Last Samurai (a.k.a. Tom Cruise’s Last Good Movie), Nobutada tells Algren that he needs “no mind” and his swordsmanship suffers because of “too many mind”.

How often is it that we are taking on too much? Not only that, but how much of that much persist as worry, anxiety, or fear? How much of it pervades our being and destroys our energy. What about our thinking taxes our emotional reservoir so?

When teaching a new move, especially to a new student, it’s important to break it down. Explain it. Demonstrate it. And then have the student step through it.

There is a process and a system – the science.

“Ok, do this. Now this. Now that. Remember this. Don’t forget that…”

But then, after working the move in pieces, step-by-step, the student being cognizant of each part,

“Stop. Now forget everything we just did and everything I told you…

…now, just do it!”

The suddenness of ability as the parts come together in a way that somehow seems effortless – that’s the art part.

Sometimes you can sit and rack your brain for hours to find the perfect words, the right solution, the appropriate diagram, the exact model, the next great concept. And it never comes. Piles of papers on the floor. Deleted Word docs and Visio diagrams in your computer’s unnecessarily-cool-looking recycle bin.

Get up. Walk away from it. Sleep on it. Do something else. And suddenly…the moment you step outside, wake up, or you’re in the shower – boom, there it is! The very thing you were looking for. It appears seemingly spontaneously.

Jedi masters always seem to say, “Be mindful of your thoughts/feelings .” But then they seemingly contradict themselves and say things like, “Clear your mind”. How confusing!

But it’s not. Even Bruce Lee said, “Focus without focus”.

It seems contradictory but it’s elegantly simple: be selectively enthusiastic and put your mind and energy toward what matters and reroute your actions, words, thoughts, and energy away from those that suck it up without recompense.

Letting go us difficult, but it is a choice. Persisting path less thoughts over and over can be futile. The trick is to embrace letting go. That’s right, embrace letting go .

Our world is always saying…no, screaming at us: “try harder!”

It’s precisely then that mushin is most needed. Fight without fighting.

No mind.

  1. David,

    I love this! Whether you call it mushin, flow, the force, or mojo, it always appears AFTER the training becomes second nature and we can then operate “instinctively with skill.” David Allen calls it “mind like water” (another martial arts reference) – only when our mind is clear and clutter-free can we create, respond, and react with exactly the appropriate response to the current situation.

    Thanks for the inspiration to clear my mind and focus my focus!



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