When I talk about being in the zone, I am talking about not only a state of consciousness that you experience, but also about the whole connection that is made between you and the environment. So, it’s not only your conscious state that changes when you are in the zone, it is also your connection to the environment that changes, and with that changed connection comes a changed awareness of the environment.
In this higher-order state you become aware of the environment as a unified whole rather than a conglomeration of parts. You also become aware of the integral nature of your own existence with and within this unified whole.
Whether you are in the zone or in the norm, every contact sequence is a little life-story of its own. It has a beginning, middle and end, and right in the middle of every contact sequences is you, a human operating system whose objective is to create positive contact and thus perpetuate the life of the rally.
Every time you create positive contact you are giving new life to the rally, extending the life of the rally, and only when there is no contact or negative contact does the life of the rally end. What’s curious about the scoring system in tennis is that you win a point when your shot prevents your opponent from perpetuating the life of the rally. It’s very warlike in that way, very competitive.
Like life, every contact sequence involves perpetual change. Nothing ever remains the same in tennis, and the more closely you can connect to these perpetual changes, the more closely you will experience the game’s true nature.
Being in the present is the best way to experience this deeper connection to the game, both on and off the court. That’s no big secret, no mystical revelation. Living in the present has always been regarded as the best way to experience life to its fullest. The problem we face with living in the present is that the human operating system is trained from birth to attach itself to the material dimension of the past. We are trained from birth to live in the immediate past – not to live in the present.
From birth we are trained to connect to the environment in a serial mode, and as we get older we move steadily away from our ability to connect to the environment in a parallel mode. The idea being that mastery of our connection to the material dimension is necessary for success in that reality.
It gets to the point where we don’t even recognize our parallel mode anymore because it’s been shoved so far back in our consciousness. Our serial mode with its serial interface becomes our dominant operational interface and our parallel mode with its parallel interface becomes lost in our search for a deeper connection to the material world
I see the power of this dominant serial connection all the time when people first start learning to play tennis in the zone. The change from their serial mode to their parallel mode is something that happens very quickly when they do the first progression. And when they switch to a parallel mode, they immediately experience the effectiveness of their peak performance state as well as experiencing the higher-order conscious state that accompanies the zone.
But even after experiencing the zone with all its positives, learning to maintaining a parallel mode during competition is difficult because it feels like the exact opposite of what you have been previously taught about competition and performance.
The thing is, you have to do something very different to switch from your normal performance state to your peak performance state. You have to stop focusing on the ball and start focusing on your contact zone. Although players can understand that concept intellectually, they all have trouble doing it. They all have trouble putting it into practice. And they all experience the same forces that stop them from experiencing their full potential on the court. Those forces can be summed up in one word – ego.
One of the barriers to experiencing your full potential is your sense of self, good ol’ self-will run riot. Let’s face it, it’s difficult to detach from your own sense of self, yet the loss of self-consciousness while you play tennis is a prerequisite to experiencing your full potential on the court.
The problem with becoming unselfconscious, however, is that the scoring system of the game is one that involves an outcome, and that outcome is always an outcome relative to you; an outcome that relates to self.
You win the point relative to self or you lose the point relative to self, and that’s not even counting all of the other aspects of the game that affect your self consciousness. Everything you see on the court or in the stands can affect your sense of self, and although you are told not to pay any attention to what is happening outside the court, you constantly find yourself making comparisons between yourself and other people, places and things.
The point is that even if you maintain your attention completely on the task at hand – say the task of hitting the ball to a specified target across the net – that task has a built in outcome (a target) that you will use as a measure of success relative to self. Outcome relative to self is the norm in outcome- based games.
The Parallel Mode Process goes at it by taking the outcome out of the task. Your only task in the PMP is to create contact at the Primary Contact Point. What happens after the contact event is not a part of the game you are playing. Your value is placed on the process, not the outcome.
Selflessness involves process sans outcome, and creating the temporal dimension of the present is what keeps you in a selfless state. When you are in the present there is no time spared for reflecting on self relative to anything that happened in the past, including what just happened at contact. Your state of presence prevents you from making any judgments relative to self; you just remain connected to the perpetual flow of the game.
Staying in the present is not at all easy. Simple, yes – easy, no. All you have to do to stay in the present is to stay focused on your contact zone (future) while letting everything else that occurs in your visual field (past) be seen in your peripheral vision. Once you realize that you actively “create” the temporal dimension of the present by combining equal portions of the past and future simultaneously, you can train yourself to focally detach from all of the action that is occurring on the court by simply fixing your focus on your contact zone.
Fixing your focus on your contact zone does not make the action on the court disappear. It just makes it out of focus. That “out of focus” scene in front of you takes getting used to because we have been told forever that we absolutely have to have our opponent in focus to read what he/she is going to do. Not to mention that we have all been told that we have to focus on the ball in order to hit the ball.
Sorry, that’s not true. You can still see what your opponent is doing without focusing on him, and you can still see what the ball is doing without focusing on it. When you are focused on your contact zone, you still see both your opponent and the ball. In fact, you see everything that is happening on the other side of your contact zone, and you see everything simultaneously as one unified whole rather than as a series of individual parts.
Furthermore, you see everything that is happening as it relates to your contact zone. In terms of temporal indexing, you see the past as it relates to the future – your future. And you will also be aware of your strokes as they relate to the future – your future point of contact.
When you focus on the ball what you see is the past relative to you, and you will be aware of your strokes as they relate to the past.
Question: how do you know where your future lies if you are constantly focused on your past?
These might seem like insignificant aspects of the game, especially to those of you who feel that the game begins with your feet. In truth, the game begins with your visual/cognitive/motor connection to the game’s environment, and how your operating system connects to and interfaces with the perpetually changing action that occurs in the tennis environment lies at the heart of how well you perform.
The human peak performance state, the zone, is created when the human VCM operating system interfaces with the past (ball) and the future (contact zone) dimensions of the contact sequence environment equally and simultaneously to create the unified temporal and spatial dimension of the present.
Thus the present is made up of equal portions of the material past and non-material future combining simultaneously to create the non-dual reality of the unified whole that is the true nature of the game. Connect to that, and you will experience your own true nature as well.