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Universal Mind

The source of enlightened sport performance

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The True Athlete Project just wrapped up the third cohort of a very special workshop embedded within our Global Mentoring Programme. The workshop led our athlete mentors and mentees deep into the principles that shape our experience of the world. It is not a psychological approach but one that explains how the mind works before our psychology even shows up – i.e., a spiritual approach.

My own experiences with performance psychology profoundly transformed my orientation and mindset in ways that have helped me perform in my sport better and more consistently and enjoy the experience far more along the way. But even as I shifted from a fear-based approach to a love-based approach, my own moments of Flow and peak performance were still tantalisingly rare, and I sensed there was much I was missing.

As I continued my natural path of exploration deeper into the human psyche and spirit, I have come to realise that the answers may lie in spiritual philosophy rather than psychological training. After all, every athlete will be able to tell you that the experience of being ‘in the zone’ is one where personal thinking subsides and a sense of your own self almost completely vanishes.

The more I have looked in this direction, the more I realise that others are talking about precisely the same spiritual understanding, from all sorts of different angles.

For example, when neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor had a stroke, the internal bleeding in her head entirely shut down her left brain hemisphere and she subsequently experienced a state of prolonged bliss and euphoria that we often hear described by the spiritually seekers among us.

“In the absence of normal functioning of my left brain, my perception of my physical boundaries was no longer limited to where my skin met air…Finer than the finest of pleasures we can experience as physical beings, the absence of physical boundary was one of glorious bliss. As my consciousness dwelled in a flow of sweet tranquility, it was obvious to me that I would never be able to squeeze the enormousness of my spirit back inside this tiny cellular matrix.”

(Her wonderful TED Talk has over 29 million views)

The ‘flow of sweet tranquility’ where her spirit soared is the very same Flow that we talk about in sport performance. ‘Being in the Zone’ and ‘Peak Performance’ are different names for the same thing, and they perfectly describe the state of being Jill Bolte Taylor experienced during her brain event.

An understanding of this deep, universal truth is something we have been overlooking in the sports world. The implications of understanding it are nothing short of paradigm-shifting.

The way Bolte Taylor describes the days and weeks following her stroke positively reverberates with what we have come to understand as spiritual enlightenment.  Her experience provides credible evidence for the philosophy that sits at the heart of all the major spiritual tradition -, our physical form is a kind of interface, a way for us to experience the physical world – which proficiently hides the truth of reality: that we are all born of one universal consciousness and have a continued, unbroken connection to that shared consciousness even as we go through our life entirely unaware of it.

The fact that Bolte Taylor was a neurologist was exceedingly helpful, as she could expertly witness the processes that were happening in her brain and the resultant subjective experience. The left brain is the language center and the storyteller. It analyses, judges, interprets and explains the world that we perceive. It is also the source of our ego and sense of being a separate self, distinct from other people and the world around us – but these turn out to be simply yet more stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves. Thus, when Bolte Taylor’s left brain shut down, she momentarily lost her self-story, and became a fluid, energetic being with no past or future, living expansively in the flow of the universe. She did not die, only her ego disappeared. When her ego disappeared, she was left with the experience of being at one with universal consciousness.

In the Netflix documentary, Break Point, Matteo Berrettini spoke similarly about being in a state of flow, where his sense of self completely dissipates -

I get to know myself way better when I am there. That is who I am."

It is a profound point. We are  not the individual human islands that we seem to be at the surface level.Instead, we are that which is present when our ego drops.

So, what does this have to do with performance sport and TAP’s recent workshop? Our workshop introduced a set of principles about how the human experience is created that points directly to the source of Flow and Peak Performance. No psychological technique does this, because at the level of psychology flow is unexplainable, mythical. Psychology (innocently) looks at what has already been formed in people’s minds and then actively responds to that creation. But as we discuss in our workshop, it is leagues more powerful to explore the space before personal thinking. Looking here allows us to avail ourselves of something more responsive, more intelligent, more powerful.

Now, we are not training athletes to shut off their internal dialogue to the extent that it happened to Bolte Taylor because athletes still need to exist as physical participants in this world. But we are revealing for them the incredible power of our thinking to create our experience of reality – yes, literally create it. And we are pointing out the way in which we receive this creative power, and indeed creativity, insight and flow – directly from the universal Mind. This was also part of Bolte Taylor’s reflection once she had fully recovered all her faculties, years later. “I am always in quest of being open to what the universe will bring me”.

The thing that we are finally starting to fully grasp in performance sport is that beyond all the physical, technical and tactical training, the mind actually facilitates performance, operating like a valve. When this valve is open, we’re able to make full use of our physical training. When this valve is closed, it inhibits our performance despite our best physical efforts.

Open or closed. It’s a good analogy. The open mind is loose, fluid, adaptable, unstuck, expansive. The closed mind is tight, clinging, clenched, limited. The problem currently is that our best solutions to helping athletes open their minds is through a psychological approach. But that is still dealing with the superficial issue – how and what we think. Our programme in TAP is more about the fact that we are thinkers, creating our experience of the world from the inside out. Realizing this allows us to unclench our minds at any moment, regardless of the external circumstances. And when we unclench our minds, we open up a direct connection with the source and energy of life. This is what monks and meditators have been pointing to for thousands of years, yet it is only now beginning to make its’ way into more mainstream environments like sport.

Every psychological performance inhibitor is essentially a clenched mind problem. Performance anxiety, low confidence, distraction, poor emotional regulation – these are all about being caught up in and believing our thinking to be real – creating a barrier to the universal mind. To unclench is to loosen our attachment to our thinking, which in turn would mean to connect with the source of flow.

As I see it, this kind of spiritual approach represents performance psychology 3.0 – a new paradigm that makes what came before obsolete – aligned with the next stage of human consciousness and evolution.

At TAP we have started this work in earnest, and the next exciting step is to bring whole teams to this understanding together – unlocking a sense of connection, communion and higher purpose that will drive high performance. We already have one national team on board and we can’t wait to see what happens when they tune into the ultimate competitive advantage - their own ability to connect to Flow more often, both within themselves and with their teammates and staff.

If you or your team would also like to be frontrunners into the next stage of performance enhancement, just get in touch!

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