Flexible Focus #38: Flexibility without Forcing

by William Reed on January 27, 2011

Moving out of your Comfort Zone

Many people like the idea of flexibility more than the practice of it. This is understandable, for if the experience takes you out of your comfort zone, you may prefer the familiar to the flexible.

When your body is stiff, then physical stretching can feel more like pain than gain. A similar thing happens mentally when your values or beliefs are forcibly stretched beyond their limits. We make frequent reference in this series to flexible focus, and how this is a process of mental and physical engagement. But it is not meant to be painful or uncomfortable. I have written in my Creative Career Path Column about how the Mandala Chart can facilitate this process by Moving from Matrix to Mandala Chart.

The key to expanding your comfort zone is to have more degrees of freedom. A brittle stick has no degrees of freedom, so anything which bends it will break it. It is the fear of breaking which causes many people to retreat into their comfort zone when stretched, but rigidity is ultimately a zone of discomfort. When you have more degrees of freedom in your mind and movements, then you experience flexible focus in action!

Mind-Mandala-Body

The key to expanding your comfort zone is to understand the process of engagement, and learn how to consciously navigate your way through it. To help visualize this, I created a Matrix which you can download called, Mind-Mandala-Body.

The horizontal axis shows the degree of engagement, from Shallow to Deep. However, the nuances change considerably when you add a second dimension with the vertical axis from Mind to Body. The two cross in the middle at the Mandala.

As an example, think of how you engage with Music. When you listen to music, you are in a more or less passive mode, engaged at a relatively superficial level with your mind or senses, and the result is that you Enjoy the music. As you learn more about the music, the style, history, instruments, and musicians, you engage at a deeper level, but still mostly in the mental and sensory realm, which is where you Learn about the music. When your engagement involves the body, either through movement of your kinesthetic sense, at first your engagement is shallow while you Practice the music. As your engagement deepens, you engage both mind and body while you Perform the music.

To understand the role of the Mandala in this Matrix, you might substitute the words Method, Tool, or Technique. The Mandala is all of these. It is also a way to connect the four zones, as well as the two axes, with Mind and Body able to engage freely in various ways.

While the Mandala Chart may seem to be more of a mental concept, as your engagement deepens it shifts to an experience, a sort of Body Mandala through which you engage with your instrument and your environment.

The Body Mandala

The Body Mandala is not just a metaphor. It is actually a physical way of experiencing and engaging your body in movement, and the discipline for learning how to do this is called Nanba: the Art of Physical Finesse.

This might make more sense if you have actively engaged in a sport, played a musical instrument, or practiced a martial art. Then you know from experience that when you play well you get into Flow, and when you play badly, you get stress or injury. What makes the difference is your mastery of physical finesse, the ability to engage intensively without forcing, twisting, or disconnecting.

I have found that my own experience with this has heightened my appreciation for the imagery of Cubism. When I am engaged in practice or performance of Nanba movement, Aikido, or even Tap and Calligraphy, the mental-physical experience somehow makes me feel like a Cubist man. I have no idea if the artists of the Cubist movement felt this way, but their work is the best visual expression I have ever seen of the kinesthetic experience of the Body Mandala.

You can also see this by observing animals such as birds, insects, or fish in movement. They are masters of physical finesse, and can teach you a lot about flexibility without forcing.

Because all of this comes to life in experience and engagement, it makes sense to find something to which you can apply it to in practice. It can be something as simple as taking a walk, but instead of just your usual stroll around the block, head out in a new direction and walk for a couple of hours. You will be surprised to see how much it brings you to your senses.

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