How to Achieve Mushin

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Martial artists try to practice mushin which is Japanese for “no mind”. This concept, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is to empty your mind of all thought while training or performing. Athletes and artists in all fields preach the benefits of not thinking, explaining that thinking inhibits action. By combining relaxation and meditation techniques in times of pressure and stress, you can perform better and make difficult physical and mental tasks seem easy.

This sounds great, doesn’t it? But mushin seems like a state only achieved by the masters of a discipline. Many explain the importance of having “no mind”, but no one really explains how to achieve it.

Here’s a quick set of tips to help you learn to do it.

1. Get really good at your chosen art.

Whether it’s martial arts, playing the piano, designing topiary, or writing blog posts, the first thing you need is skill. Think of learning to ride a bike: you spend so much effort trying to develop the technique and balance needed not to fall off, you fall off a lot. After a while, you get good enough at riding the bike, and you don’t have to think about it anymore. The same goes for any other discipline; if you still have to think about getting things right, you won’t be able to achieve a state of mushin. First practice your art until you have a high level of proficiency.

2. Clear your mind.

This might seem obvious, but you need to eliminate extraneous thought in order to achieve mushin. Let’s use the bike riding analogy again. When you learn to ride your bike, what is the next thing that normally happens? You ride well enough not to think about riding, but it’s easy to get distracted. It’s a lot of fun to ride your bike while watching your surroundings whoosh by–especially downhill. This is usually a relatively safe practice, but do you remember what happened when you were a kid? Do you still have scars? If you’re like me, you probably crashed your bike at least once because of distractions. If you’re not paying attention to potholes, dogs off the leash, or even oncoming traffic, you could be in trouble.

When learning to be mindless in your art, try your best to avoid distractions. Block out the things that draw you away from your practice. You may need to cross train in other forms of meditation to really get the hang of this. As you get better at clearing your mind while just sitting and breathing, for example, it will be easier to clear your mind while painting a landscape.

3. Challenge yourself.

Imagine this. You’re ten years old. Your best friend just “built” a bike ramp out of a thin piece of plywood and rocks. He wants you to help him test it out. Do you do it? Of course!

The daring nature of youth (i.e. stupidity) leads us to take risks. After a few scraped knees, however, most of us lose our taste for risky behavior. I’m not advocating for you to put yourself in harm’s way, but to really achieve mushin you need to get out of your comfort zone. Sure, you might be able to relax and concentrate while practicing your art alone, but what about in front of an audience? Do you lose your resolve? Think of challenges that force you to double your efforts at staying calm and focused.

For example, if you practice martial arts, do your forms outside or in front of an audience. If you like to write, try to get something published. Knowing that someone else will read your work makes it harder to finish when the infamous “imaginary editor” is shouting at you while you write. If you dance or play piano, give a recital.

Once you master mushin during one challenge, think of a new one!

Being Mindful about “No Mind”

Perhaps the best reason to cultivate mushin is how it affects the rest of your life. Learning to relax while training and performing helps you to keep your cool during trying times. Some people are born with a remarkable ability to stay graceful under pressure; the rest of us need to work at it. Consider the “zen” applications of mushin in your art, but remember that it can help you throughout your everyday experiences as well, helping you to better enjoy the good things and to overcome any struggles you may face.

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