When you see a world class dancer or musician performing, a world class sportswoman producing a stunning shot at the last minute of the game? What do you think is common in these situations? Yes, they manifest genius in their work. Yes, what they produce seems incredulous or even miraculous to us. Yet, all they do is to bring their total awareness to their work in that moment. They just bring a meditative quality to their work. If for example, they are playing music, they become one with the music world. They become the player of the music, the music that goes out and also the listener of the music. This being the final stage of genius, there are several levels before that. Before, we learn about them, let us understand the impediments that could block us on this path.
In the Mahabharata, Dhronacharya was the royal teacher of the Kauravas and Pandavas. During a lesson of archery, the task was to hit the eye of the bird perched upon a tree. The teacher was standing beside the pupils and asking them what they saw, as they took aim. Some said they saw the wings of the bird, some said the leaves of the trees, others that they saw the sky beyond and the teacher was listening intently. Finally, it was the turn of Arjuna. He replied that he saw the eye of the bird and nothing else and of course, he hit the target. Metaphorically, the distractions that the other people saw could in the context of work relate to the pain, mistakes and memories of the past and the glories that await us in the future. Like Arjuna, we must quell all these distractions and focus solely only on the work at hand. Nothing else must be entertained in the mind’s eye. But that does not mean we must not recall the past events or think of the future but not while we are engaged in work. To further illustrate the point, I would like to put forth a quote by Rafael Nadal, the great tennis player “What I battle hardest to do in a tennis match is to quiet the voices in my head , to shut everything out of my mind but the contest itself and concentrate every atom of my being on the point I am playing. If I made a mistake on a previous point, forget it; should a thought of victory suggest itself, crush it.”
Now, let us discuss about the levels of concentration possible. James Allen beautifully describes that there are four levels: attention, contemplation, abstraction and activity of repose. In the first two levels, results are achieved but there is some friction associated with the work and the mind and work are not united. In the third stage, the senses are oblivious to the outside world and the mind is solely centered on the work. In the final stage, called activity in repose the greatest work is accomplished with minimum friction. In this final stage, there is complete marriage of the activities of the mind with the work performed. All men of genius and originality are men of abstraction and all the masters and leaders reach the final stage of concentration, activity in repose.
How do we get there? First thing, is to be aware that there are higher levels of concentration that we can aspire towards. We must practice day in and day out to raise the level of attention we apply to our work. But not in a forceful way but in a calm, imperturbable way. We must march on taking stock of the progress we make and not be disappointed when we don’t make progress. The goal we aspire for is so great that it is worth the wait.
Finally, to conclude I would like to finish with a quote by Bruce Lee. It not only sums up all that I wrote in this article but points to us that all Masters reach out to the same goal. To merge completely with their work.
“ A good martial artist does not become tense but ready. Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract and when he contracts I expand. And when there is an opportunity, “I” do not hit, “it” hits all by itself.”