The zone

29 07 2010

Back in his heyday, the great Michael Jordan had games when he didn’t need to look for the basket because he was in the zone. It’s that mythical place of perfection where everything lines up so well that our bodies performance is dream like, almost by coincidence adding to the bigger picture surrounding it.

Surfers strive for the perfect wave. Golfers the perfect round, maybe a hole in one. World Champ Downhill Mountain biker Sam Hill says that when he is in the zone on race day he can barely remember the run he’s just finished. Number one Time Trialist Fabian Cancellara says it’s like he’s not even there, as if he floats above his body and he can’t feel the pedals. I remember at Challenge Wanaka triathlon a couple of years ago after putting in the performance of her life Merryn Johnston said it was easy – at first I felt she’d short changed herself and could have gone faster, but it’s not that simple and yet it is that beautiful.

We all practice various hobbies and occupations that we wish to improve; Maths, Music and Carpentry for some, for me cycling. I’m fortunate to remember three occasions when everything was right. Once was while racing on a short but demanding course from Queenstown to Glenorchy. Nothing that day was difficult. I existed in a bubble of calm. When the moment came to attack, I rode with such force that only two top riders could struggle with all their might to hold my slip stream yet for me it wasn’t even touching the sides – I was en forme. A week later while out on an easy ride by myself I felt the sensation again and decided to seize the moment to find its limits – in some ways I couldn’t. While of course there was a physical boundary to my speed, there was no wavering my in-the-moment focus, control and enjoyment I experienced pushing harder and faster. By the designated finish line the time I clocked I couldn’t have imagined getting close to without having rung myself inside out, yet I was barely breathing.

However ‘the zone’ doesn’t always have to be simply an athletic performance. Often it is just a unique junction of euphoria we cross without warning. A magical selection of your favourites on the radio; those dinner parties where conversation flows with ease, laughter is abundant and the food is three star perfection; or a subtle tilt of the camera that quirks the composition just so, as the sun glints momentarily through a break in the clouds… The zone pops up in mysterious ways, with timing as random as it is reliable.

You can train and practice all you like – it all helps – but unless your mind is relaxed and your soul open you’ll miss these great gifts when they come along. If you think back you’ll find some of them. Remember all of the circumstances and why it all gelled together that one time. You’ll realise that it is not impossible after all. Better still you’ll know what to look out for so that you can be ready to appreciate and take full enjoyment the next time it comes to visit.