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The Zone

The other day I went to see Harry Styles perform at Madison Square Garden. If you don't know who Harry bloody Styles is, here is the brief lowdown. Harry is basically God's gift to mankind. Me and 40 million 12-year-old girls can't be wrong, can we? Harry is English, adorable, 27 years old, a wildly talented musician and performer who simply radiates charisma and glows with an odd but fascinating mix of good boy/bad boy charm. He was the front man for the globally adored superstar boy band One Direction from 2010-2016. The band had similarities to the original boy band, The Beatles, for the hysteria they both caused wherever they went. One Direction went on hiatus in 2016 and Harry went out on his own, becoming an international superstar yet again, but this time as a solo artist.

The cacophony before he took the stage was deafening. I didn't care, as I found myself caught up in the "Harry-fever" as well and was screaming like a 6th grade girl. The Garden was packed. When I closed my eyes I could feel the energy in the building pulsing through my body in a deep heavy thrum. I wondered if some of the young girls would pass out when he finally got on stage. There was that much hair pulling and crying and jumping up and down and general Harry-related distress going on that it was highly likely. Finally he appeared on stage and all twenty thousand of us went totally bonkers. I felt high with joy and expectation. Then he started to perform and that's when the real magic started. I could not take my eyes off of him as he ran like a man possessed from one end of the stage to the other. The stage was set up in a circle and he ran around it in full several times thanking us for being there and throwing us kisses. He worked every single curve of that circle as he actively flirted with all of us. The stranger next to me grabbed my arm hard and squealed "He's looking at us!! He's looking right at us!!!" And it did appear, for a split second, that he was. I'm quite sure that every other person in the stadium that night felt the same thing. He connected with all of us. He successfully pulled us all into the present moment and we stayed there with him...for hours. As I watched him perform, singing, dancing, playing guitar, chatting up the crowd, I thought "My God, he was made to do this. There is nothing else on God's green earth that he could possibly be doing with his life but this very thing. He HAS to do this.” For us, but also for Harry himself, for his soul.

Then a thought came to me that Harry Styles was in communion with something higher than himself, something greater than himself, greater than any of us at the concert that night. I felt, watching that show, that Harry was a conduit of God's grace on earth. I'm not saying this scrumptious little teen idol is a god, not at all. I just had a feeling that he was channeling something divine, not of this earth, while he was performing. A talent or a gift that sets him apart from mere mortals. It's not just Harry Styles that makes me feel this way. I get this feeling watching old videos of Led Zeppelin, Fred Astaire, Bobby Fischer, Bruce Lee, Jimi Hendrix, Jackson Pollock, Baryshnikov, Janis Joplin, Babe Ruth, Kobe Bryant, a young Elvis, Jesse Owens. I see it in sporting events today with stars like Rafael Nadal, Laird Hamilton, Tom Brady. I get it in the here and now watching Max Verrstappen, the Formula One wunderkind, become one with his machine at over 220 miles an hour. There is a cool decisive clarity in a person's eyes when they enter The Zone and it's an amazing sight to behold.

I realize that what draws me to these performers of all kinds is that while they are engaged in whatever it is they do, they are doing it in The Zone or a state of Mushin. Mushin is a Buddhist-turned-martial arts term that translates literally as “no mind”. Mushin is the state of mind that is devoid of attachments or thoughts that interrupt the flow of what's going on RIGHT in front of us. It is sometimes called a "flow state" or in the medical profession, transient hypofrontality. Mushin is achieved when a person's mind is free from thoughts of anger, fear, ego, lust, discursive thought or judgement, so the person is totally free to act and react without disturbance from such thoughts. At this point, a person relies not on what they think should be the next move, but on what their natural reaction or instinct is, on what is intuitively felt.

Ah, the glorious heartbeat of the present moment. I'm so rarely there it feels like a land that Walt Disney might have conjured up. I have a hard time getting there and staying there. I think that's why sports and arts and performances of all kinds, even "extreme-competitive-cooking" shows are so amazing. To see someone performing in a state of Mushin, in The Zone, without the mind’s constant chattering interferences is quite moving. To know that humans can exist in the clear sweet present instead of hanging around in the dusty past and the murky future. I think that's why it's so inspiring to see these events live. You can feel the energy of the present moment and that is exhilarating. I love when I witness someone who has been in The Zone (and has achieved some miraculous feat of artistry or athleticism) snap out of The Zone and start laughing in pure joy. Sometimes they will even cry. They seem to be as amazed and surprised by the magic they have just created as we are. Collectively we can roar, wonderstruck at their seemingly super-human abilities.

I remember when I was still abusing drugs and alcohol I would watch sporting events or concerts or the ballet in person and be amazed at the talent. I would sit there watching, slowly getting hammered and checking out. I could never really be in the moment at those events because I was constantly juggling getting really fucked up and pretending that I was "a little buzzed". That is a harrowing tightrope walk that I don't ever want to walk again. Often I would have a sense that I was witnessing something remarkable. That the artists or athletes or actors I was observing were channeling some other-worldly force. But I never got any further than that. It was hard to feel the magic I felt the other night at the concert because most of my feelings were buried under a thick layer of numbing agents. There is a strange battle waged between addiction and being present. For whatever the reason I often found the present moment highly unacceptable to me so I would take myself out of it, chemically.

But we don't necessarily need to be Harry Styles or any of these other people to access the present moment. Just by remaining sober day after day I am more present than I've ever been. My intuition, which was so cloudy and muddled for years because of drug and alcohol abuse, is beginning to reappear. My "Spidey-Sense" is tingling. Esteban Ocon, another Formula One phenom, plays ping pong with his trainers while completely blindfolded and over time has become a master at it. Training himself and his "Spidey-Sense" to feel the ball (not see the ball) approaching his paddle, before he smashes it back across the net.

At some point Harry was singing his heart out (no lip syncing for this young man) AND skipping backwards across the stage (how that's possible with all those thick electrical cords snaking about I'll never know) when someone threw a pair of sunglasses at him. Without looking or even really paying attention he grabbed those sunglasses out of the air, put them on his face, and sang his song, returning the glasses to their rightful owner once the song was done. This was all done organically, gracefully, intuitively. If Harry had been anywhere but in The Zone, effortlessly weaving projectiled sunglasses into his show in front of 20,000 strangers, would have been impossible. Harry didn't need to see those sunglasses coming his way, he FELT them coming his way. All because he was completely present with no distractions from the constantly chattering, often distracting mind.

There is something about human nature and especially my personal addict nature that is not content to stay in the present moment. I like to plot and scheme. To spend an inordinate amount of time in the longings of the past and the fears of the future. I like to ruminate and catastrophize, ruminate and catastrophize, ruminate and catastrophize - or at least I did. I don't feel the need to do that quite so much anymore. I don't need to. In sobriety I have learned something that I never fully grasped before. That the present moment is where the joy is and where it can always be found.


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