Jedi Athletic Performance


Ask just about any elite athlete and they will likely tell you that their best performances emerge in a state of consciousness that is free from discursive activity. You know, it's that "self-talk" or "inner dialogue" that is often narrating the story of your life.

When athletes are executing and performing at their very best this symbolic functioning of the mind and its automated inner commentary are suspended. What is happening inside their mind is a simplicity that reaches beyond yet includes immense complexity from years of training and often decades of studying their sport.


All in a fraction of a second, clean precise execution unfolds almost effortlessly. 


This is not slipping back into an unconscious, pre-reflective and pre-symbolic way of functioning that psychologists find in early development. This is an increase in awareness, a more refined attunement with what is happening and a demonstration of greater skill in the face of competitive pressure. Peak performance is, in many ways, a function of a more evolved and integrated brain and nervous system.

The challenge of course is as the pressure increases with competition, the drive to make sense of what is happening becomes louder and louder. And by make sense, I mean tell yourself a story that holds you, situates you and coheres what's happening and how you fit in, or don't fit in. The bigger the competition, the more challenging the pressure to make sense of your experience. One of my clients was recently recounting his different experiences of getting in front of 70,000 fans. Sometimes they are devotionally cheering for his best performance. Other times, they are awaiting to celebrate any mistake he may make. At each stage the pressure mounts and so does the pressure to make sense of your place amidst the increasing level of competition.

How did I get here?
Am I really prepared to compete at this level?
What if I make mistakes?
How can I win?
Have I done everything I can to prepare?
Who am I if I lose?

These and many other questions are being answered by the stories we knowingly and unknowingly tell ourselves as we sit in locker rooms before taking the field and as the game begins.

While there are stories and narratives that are more adaptive and supportive of your growth as a competitor as well as stories that will stunt your athletic development dramatically, we aren't investigating this today. The narratives that make sense to you and create a skilled relationship with discipline, hard work and passion for the sport that most speaks to your heart outside of and leading up to competition are essential. But today, we are investigating when you step into your sport and execute at your very best when it matters most.

It's what Trevor Tierney and I have begun to talk about as being a LIOV Hero (more to follow on this front soon). This isn't just a random occurrence, although it may appear to be at first glance. There is a curriculum that can be mastered thus enabling you to elevate your play. One skill is what we are calling postrepresentational experience. It's a big fancy term, but it's pointing to something very simple. It is about quieting the mind's chatter so you get more contact with what is actually happening moment-to-moment. It is a skill and it is one that you likely need to polish if you want to be able to perform at your best under immense stress.

There is a part of you that is beyond your stories. It is beyond the mental chatter. It stretches outside of your mind's habit of symbolically representing everything in a story. Winning is a story. It is a map of what happened or a strategy of what you will do to hopefully gain a "W" in the win column. The story inside of you is different from the actual territory of victory and defeat within the heart of competition. The more connected you are to the actual territory of competition, the better you can perform.

Great athletes know the difference between being in the story and being immersed in the actual territory of the game. A captain may ask his team, "Are you ready?" with a fierceness in his eyes and a passion in his heart as he stands in the huddle with his team before the game.

Some cheer yes, because that is what the story in their mind tells them to do. These athletes are playing out a narrative. They may indeed be playing the same sport, but don't be mistaken, they are playing a different game than the jedi athletes who are fewer in number, yet possess greater capacities to perform.

These warriors may too cheer "yes," but underneath the passion is a silent presence that is palpable. There are no words for it. In an instant, just in a glance, the great competitor will recognize this readiness in a teammate. Inside of this momentary exchange is a recognition of each other. There's no words and there's no story about it. They are "plugged in" and already competing together on another level. When the pressure is high, this is where a deep trust resides.

As the inferior athlete is distracted and consumed by strategy, personal stories, desires to be perceived in preferred ways and for the story of the game to fit the narrative in their mind where, in the end, they win, something more profound is happening in the jedi athlete. This athlete is quietly attending to precisely what is happening within himself, his team, his coaches and, of course, the displays of his competition.

Now you may think I'm bring in some fantasy narrative into this blog as I reference a jedi from the Star Wars movies but make no mistake George Lucas, writer and director of Star Wars, filmed sections of the movie with Zen master Maezumi Roshi on the set helping him sculpt the character Yoda. Yoda and the jedi culture are in many ways modeled after this Zen master's perception of the world. While Star Wars is indeed a story, what the jedi represent and are pointing toward is not. Master the mind and amazing feats are possible.

The Zen master has gained a refined capacity for freeing his or her mind from the conventional limitations it often remains trapped within. The symbolic and representational functions of the mind is a cage of sorts. It traps you into a particular story. Dr. Daniel Siegel discusses these as "top down cortical enslavements" for this reason. Most human beings are slaves to the stories their mind rehearses. But the elite athlete is no slave to story. The more refined excellence stem from an open and direct perception of the game. Faster responsiveness occurs. Clear perception into next steps is apprehended instantaneously. Novel adaptations to competitive strengths, weakness and strategy emerge, often without effort. The list could go on.

Many athletes get accidental trips to this postrepresentational domain of performance, but few master this inner game. As such they roll the dice, hoping to achieve their best performance. The story of hope ultimately is no substitute for the well practiced and disciplined ability to drop stories and attend to life, sport and competition in a more direct way.

As an ongoing part of your training on and off the field, consider cultivating your ability to suspend and drop the inner dialogues, narratives and stories your mind is often automatically rehearsing. The greater this mental strength the more powerful your resilience will be in the face of high demands  in critical situations. And, above all... pay close attention to the teammates, coaches and other leaders in your life that display the jedi qualities described here.

Rob McNamara,
Author
Strength To Awaken & The Elegant Self

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The Role of Meditation in Sport

I remember going into the green turf room just down the hallway from my locker room before my lacrosse games in college at Susquehanna University. I would disappear from the locker room for 5 or 10 minutes to find my posture of stillness. These brief sessions are amongst the most important meditation practices I did throughout my time in college. They were always, without question, the most enlivening meditations. Meditating before a highly competitive game that you pour hours of practice into every day is a different beast altogether than the meditations I would do outside of athletics. Even today, as I write about this experience, I can feel the subtle threads of anxiety coursing throughout my body, my mind trying to figure out a way to cope with the stress of competition and leadership and the vibrations of aliveness that would build throughout my meditation.

To be honest, I was trying to calm myself down. I was sitting in an attempt to be less attached to the outcome of the game. I was sitting to be more accepting of my performance, good or bad. I was in my meditation posture to be more present to the game so that I could perform better. But underneath I really wanted to get rid of this intense vibration of aliveness that felt like immense anxiety.

Did it work?

Yes and No.

Without fail, the longer I did my meditation before a game the more anxious I became. I couldn't distract myself from the energies coursing throughout my body and mind. While I calmly breathed and the experiential intensity grew I started noticing that my body and mind had an intelligence all to it's own for conducting this energy fluidly throughout myself. The more "conductive" I became, the more powerful of presence I had to lead my team on the field. Meditation appeared to galvanize more strength and energy within me. This undoubtably made me a better competitor.

What was failing in my mind was I wanted meditation to make me more comfortable before games. This never worked, ever. While I didn't know it at the time, meditation was powerfully sculpting my nervous system. I was becoming more "vertically integrated" as Daniel Siegel eloquently describes it.

Intense anxiety for athletes often results in a fragmentation in their nervous systems which compromises performance... always. The mind usually starts to spin out into various scenarios following a few basic fantasies. The first involves disaster scenarios the second involves fantasies of everything turning out positive and for the best while one of the most fearful fantasies formulates a story that the game doesn't "really" matter. The first two are an imaginary world that is disconnected from the actual territory of what's happening in the larger reality around the athlete, while the last option is a fantasy fueled with a blunt lie to themselves to buffer just how much the game (and their life) does mean to them. For athletes caught within their own private fantasies they are "sitting ducks" to a competition who's nervous systems are sculpted to attend to the specificity and nuance of what is actually going.

For me, my anxiety was increasing but my mind was getting closer into contact with what was going on in my body. While I didn't realize it at the time, this was growing my nervous system in essential ways.

To cover just one point, meditation practice strengthened my anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC as it's often called. By growing my brain's connectivity to the ACC I was able to have greater influence and control over my attention. I was becoming more in control of what's called my "executive attention," not my less complex and impulsive facets of my brain.

For you young athletes, the one's who are traversing the territory out of adolescence and into young adulthood take this into consideration: Your ACC is often called the Chief Operating Officer of your brain. You started to grow a tenuous connection to your ACC between the ages of 3 and 7. But this integration will not be complete well into your adulthood.

Accelerate your ability to aim and sustain attention with your intention. 

The better you get at this, the more mature your brain becomes, regardless of your age. The more mature your brain, the greater your capacities become for performing on the field and in life.

This translates into you focusing on the right cues under pressure and in the face of distractions. It means you can process emotions quicker and not get suck in the stories that surround challenging emotions. During games the ACC supervises what is happening with your attention. For example, if you start focusing on outcomes during a play, the ACC can stop this daydream and sharpen your attention onto the specific cues your mind needs to be tracking to be successful. Furthermore, in the face of adversity, which good competition always provides, you can stay focused on you, your behavior and your strategies instead of uncritically watching your opponents.

So, meditate. As I often call it, practice managing your attention. Do it rigorously. Do it regularly. What you are capable of achieving depends largely on your ability to manage attention.

If you're interested in joining attention management to strength training, consider killing two birds with one stone and do them simultaneously. Strength to Awaken is the most nuanced and sophisticated approach to integrating attention management into the discipline of strength training.

Rob McNamara
Author of The Elegant Self & Strength To Awaken






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The Fitness Revolution



When we think of fitness revolutions our minds habitually go toward some "fad" or some "new" trend that does indeed change the landscape of "fitness" for a short while.

This isn't what I am talking about.

Most fads and "new" trends in fitness adhere to the same socially conditioned aims. As long as a fitness movement does not have a genuinely novel orientation, one that is liberated from the social habituations that we are all scripted in, there is no revolution in sight.

None at all.

Fitness as I am re-framing and re-claiming the term here is not interested in shaping your body in some socially habituated aim. 


This isn't to say that through this fitness movement, your body may begin to shape and inhabit joy in ways you never considered and perhaps in the process some of these changes may shape you in ways that society looks at and says "yes, I want that" in a deeply conscious way. But, this is not the point.

Maintain your clarity and do not fall into an unconscious loyalty with your social conditioning.

Fitness actually has little to do with the way you look or appear. Fitness as I invite you to relate to this term and practice is something quite different.

The fitness revolution I invite you into is your capacity, ability and skill to FIT with, merge into and participate as the direct immediacy of this moment. Here it is again…

Fitness is your capacity to FIT with, merge into and participate as the direct immediacy of this, and every, moment.

This is your true "fit-ness" and, as you can see, this does not have much to do with the shape of your body, the measurements and stats your body possess nor the desires and aims you aspire to.

This fitness revolution serves your liberated embodiment.

If you're like most people you require training for the type of fitness I am pointing at requires you decoupling yourself from your unconscious habituations. We are not trying to get your body "more fit" in the conventional sense. We are cultivating your ability to fit your conscious participation into the larger immediacy of your life.

Try it!

It is "hot!"
Meaning, this is an alive, liberated, joyful and deeply engaged embodiment of the full unmediated immediacy of your life.

The next time you find yourself looking at something that's claiming to be "revolutionary" put it to the fire to see if it's aims are genuinely liberated from social conventions. Likely you will see that it's the same old intention, aim and goal wrapped in a new costume jumping around like a clown saying "get me and you'll be happy!"

I recommend using these as wake up calls.

There are many!

If you're like me, you need MANY!

Say thank you and move on, cut through and deepen the participatory immediacy that is always already holding you, co-merging with and as you.

And if you're like me, you can use a conventional tool - strength training - to yield unconventional aims with unconditioned results.

Join me!
Explore fitness from this lens. Engage your yoga from here, ride your bike from here,  sit on your meditation fusion from here, cook dinner tonight from here, write your e-mail from here, run from here, read this blog from here.

Fitness, the ability to FIT with, merge into and participate as the direct immediacy of this moment.

Enjoy your revolution.

Big Love
~Rob

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The Evolution of You & Integral Practice


In my book Strength to Awaken I outline a system and philosophy of practice that steps beyond much of the current formulations around integral practice.

The old school model, whether you're talking about Ken Wilber's ILP (integral life practice) or Michael Murphy's ITP (integral transformative practice), they are both rooted in a sequential engagement of all of your major faculties. Both approaches totally rock and they have been robust approaches that are genuine strides forwards in the technology of evolving human complexity. And one of their central limitations is that neither explicitly in a rigorous way engage the integral nature of who you are in the immediacy of this moment.

How do you train this?

That's what my book is all about.

Sequence is an inherent part of life, and the natural unfolding of your schedule takes care of the sequential nature of practice. Pick up an integral framework and take it to heart and you will find an integral practice much like Wilber and Murphy propose organically forming in your schedule. Whatever you genuinely value, you will see it showing up in your schedule.

However, If you're like most people then you are likely in need of an upgrade from a sequential approach to integral practice to the robust discipline of the full unmediated participation with this immediacy.
This my friends is where your mature integral consciousness resides and as long as you temporally project your aliveness and complexity through time - or sequence - you're playing in the integral minor leagues.

From what I can tell we need more people inhabiting, embodying and participating with the honors curriculum of human development and this brings me to the maturation of integral consciousness and ultimately the maturation of...You.

Following yesterday's post - the vast majority of people relate to integral practice and state training from a conventional stage of complexity (or below). Let's look at some of the meaning making around these conventions.

"I am meditating"
"I had a non-dual experience"
"I am working on stabilizing my Witness"

These are just a few brief examples of conventional stages of interpretation regarding state-training and in the context of integral practice we might find someone saying,

"I am going to work on my body line tonight in yoga and I've got a shadow session tomorrow afternoon with my therapist and I'm going to try to meditate tonight before I go to sleep."

"I am doing a surrender practice following my strength training session, then I am going to do some journaling. This evening after work I'm working on my cognitive line of development by studying this amazing author's Blog. It's Rob McNamara, ever heard of him?"

Shameless promoting, I know ;-)

This kind of discourse happens all the time in the integral community and it is likely to happen within your own private narrative as well.

This is all conventional because it presumes that you - your sense of self - is distinct, whole and complete from the various objects that you are negotiating. Meditation times, contemplative states of consciousness, the physical, emotional, relational, and mental parts of an integral practice. This is through and through conventional.

Ok, I'm going to let you in on a little secret… ok so it's a BIG secret. Mature Integral Consciousness has an entirely different relationship to Integral Theory and Practice than the vast majority of people are participating with. Shhhh, don't tell anyone.

…. that was exciting wasn't it?
Ok, now that we had our exciting secret you can tell anyone you want :-)

The vast majority of the integral movement has been enveloped by conventional stages of meaning making, I know… take it easy - it's OK. Ask yourself this question, Have you used integral theory to "evolve" or "develop" a more distinct, more distinctive, more complete sense of self?

Next, look around your integral circles and take note, Are they using integral theory to create, establish and fortify a more distinct, separate and complete sense of self? Are the constantly yearning to grasp the whole of integral theory by reading all the books, taking the advanced trainings and coaching with the supposed brightest minds?

This is often the landscape… Chances are you're doing this on some level and so is just about everyone else around you. For those of you who are sympathetic to the whole integral notion of being lonely in your developmental vantage point, float your rib cage gently forward, allow your crown to lift, soften your belly and allow this to penetrate through every facet of you.

Part of this is true, good and beautiful & the part virtually nobody talks about (because few people see it as an object in their complexity) is that your perceived isolation stems from your conventional stage of development. Yep, that's right, this felt sense largely stems from your conventional stage, not from your post conventional stages. Think of it as a symptom of "Integral Infancy."

The job of your conventional stage of development is to cultivate and establish a separate, distinct, complete self that is functionally autonomous. You can set your own boundaries, take stands for what you value most, clearly communicate, be loyal to who you are or who you can become depending on the circumstance. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

You are a complete, distinct self that interacts with the world. Oh, and if you do this really well with a high degree of competence, you feel alone, isolated and wondering how to bridge the gap between where you are - you "separate, discrete" self and those other people over there. Take this implicit conventional drive and jack it up on something like AQAL and of course you're going to feel even more "isolated" and hungry for community.

If you happen to have already established some sense of mastery over the "autonomous, discrete and distinct self" then it's time for the "honors track" as Robert Kegan calls it.

Right now your greater emergence is embedded in participating with the larger complexity that is here holding you and working you. Feeling isolated is only one pole of the larger truth that participates you. The dialectic of separateness and connectedness is fluid in your novel emergence into your larger more beautiful maturity. In fact, the interconnectedness of the immediacy of this moment is interpenetrating throughout you in an alive dynamic way. While your separateness and distinctness flowers into an even greater fullness, this is no longer a fixed consolidated position but an open interpenetrable incompleteness that's born from an uncommon intimacy with everything.

Enjoy!

Your sense of self that embodies your larger complexity is not distinct, not separate, not complete. Your search for greater wholeness - when not ejected into transcendent states of consciousness - actually inhabits your unconditioned incompleteness. The larger complexity that is holding you, working you, co-creating you is fundamentally incomplete, partial, open and a unique flux of interpenetrating unresolvable dialectics.

BAM!!!

...as always, more to come :-)

Big Love
~Rob


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