Here’s another one from the Eckhart Tolle vault. It’s about a recent talk wherein he tells the story of the Zen master and his disciple watching an archery competition.
One of the archers was extremely skilled but was shooting poorly. The disciple asks his master why the accomplished archer wasn’t doing well. The Zen master replied:
“His desire to win deprives him of power.”
Let’s dive deeper into two parts of the Zen master’s quote. First, the “desire to win.” Second, the “power.” What do those things mean?
Process over outcome
The archer’s desire to win is a clear example of focusing on outcome rather than process. How does that manifest? When he pulls the string back with the arrow on it, he trains his eyes on the target. But if anywhere in his mind he’s thinking about winning, he is NOT placing all his focus on the target.
I know this from my own experiences playing competitive tennis since I was nine years old. Here’s but one of hundreds of examples I could give.
Playing against a tennis star
I was eleven years old and playing in the 12 and under division at the tournament in La Jolla, California. My opponent was Jimmy Pugh, a junior phenom. He was ranked number one in Southern California in our division and I’m pretty sure he was number one in America, too. I think I’d even seen a special news segment on television about him. Bottom line, he was Mr. Big and I was not.
So we start the match and I win the first two games. WHAAATTT?! That’s exactly what was going through my head. I couldn’t believe it. I was beating Jimmy Pugh. And that’s all that was going through my head.
What was I NOT doing? Playing tennis. Concentrating on my shots. I was too busy thinking about the fact that I was beating my junior tennis idol.
So how did the match go? Not well. He won the next twelve games in a row and beat me 6–2, 6–0.
The Bhagavad Gita, one of Hinduism’s most sacred texts, is crystal clear on this point. Krishna tells Arjuna:
“Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working.”
This isn’t about acting virtuous, either. It’s about doing everything you can to maximize performance. And the absolute best way to do that is to remain present and place all of your focus on the task at hand, whether that’s swinging a tennis racquet or firing an arrow.
The power of presence
The second part of the Zen master’s comment deals with what we access when we remain present and focused on the task at hand: Power. It’s no coincidence that Eckhart named his blockbuster book The Power of Now. Because there is enormous power to be accessed when we quiet down inside and live in the now.
Athletes often refer to that place as the zone, where everything is flowing and we do things that amaze even ourselves. I’ve hit shots on the tennis court where I’ll say to myself, “How the hell did I do that?” That never happens when I’m stuck in my head thinking; only when I’m tuned in and present.
People who truly want to win do everything in their power to remain present in the heat of battle. Tiger Woods is famous for his relentless concentration and focus on each shot. He never gets ahead of himself or worries about the last shot. Just the shot in front of him.
The moral of the story? Whether it’s a presentation at work, a tennis match against a junior phenom or an archery competition, stay focused on what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, and you will maximize your performance.
In other words, if you want to do well…Be here, now.
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