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Spirituality Essay:

In The Zone    ( May 2006 )

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Athletes use the term "in the zone" to describe a special time when, for reasons seemingly unknown, they find themselves playing at an exalted level. It comes, lasts for a week or two perhaps, then goes away. During that time, baseball players, for example, say they see the ball differently, their swing develops a new smoothness . . . and ground ball outs somehow become crisp line drives.

They rarely can explain why; it just seems to happen.

Have you ever noticed times when your life feels "in the zone?" . . . you can do no wrong, you feel "at one" with everything around you, serendipitous occurrences just seem to happen, and all your relationships and activities bask in this effortless, wonderful glow. Life hums sweetly . . . the way we want it to.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly identified this special state of being. He noticed it develops when we're engaged in pleasurable, moderately stimulating activities we can be successful at, and (if our mindset is right) can continue on for days. We might notice this glow. But the dead-giveaway is how time passes: we don't notice it . . . it tends to disappear . . . we're surprised when the clock reveals it's later than it seems.

In sports, being "in the zone" may just happen. But in life, Mihaly says this sweet state can be actively cultivated.

That large subject is well beyond the scope of this column - though we will have a service next Fall that gives this subject its due.

But one interesting component of this is that we can create more times in this state just by becoming aware of them! When those natural highs happen, just noticing them, (note also what you're doing, by the way), and gently savoring the feelings validates and reinforces them deeply in our minds . . . ..setting up neuron pathways in our brains that prompt future returns to those special times of bliss.

I think one helpful tool for developing this awareness is having a special "sensitivity" barometer that lets you know when that "in the zone" state is happening. For me, it's noticing colors. When I'm able to slow down my normal mind-chatter and go-go modus and feel more in touch with life's natural flow, I always notice colors more acutely, more beautifully . They dazzle - out from a pastel-like background - they seem to pop into bright, rich, vibrant delights. Ahh . . . yes, here's that coveted state: I'm back in the zone, fully pre-sent in the here and now, and "one with the world."

This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
Read more Spirituality Essays
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