Athletes speak of it often. Musicians claim they are inspired by it. Writers claim their works write themselves from within it. Mystics have prophetic visions while bathed in its light. Martial artists draw unforseen strength and prowess from it.
Somewhere deep inside the mind is a doorway to a place where time does not exist, where actions flow without the burden of thought. The body becomes a conduit for energy that seemingly comes from nowhere and translates into beauty, strength, grace and intracacy. This place is called The Zone.
I have no doubt that such a place exists; I have watched others while immersed in The Zone and seen profound changes in their actions and attitudes. I have even been lucky enough to be there a couple of times. In this essay, I will attempt to describe both what I have observed in others and what I have felt on my own occasions
Several years ago, I went to a late night jam session at a small club in Durango, Colorado. The club was empty but for a few people sitting at the little tables. Because of the low turnout for the jam, the house band spent a lot of time onstage that night. At one point, they launched into a slow, instrumental twelve-bar blues. The guitarist, a quiet Texan named Peter Neds, eased into the solo, playing mainly standard blues licks and runs. Somewhere near the middle of the solo, he slipped into The Zone, and the music began playing him. His solo encompassed every guitar trick I had ever seen and a few more, the entire time conveying a sense of pain and loss that only a slow blues can do. He was not merely stringing together stock phrases; the solo was a living structure, interconnected and sobbing with sorrow. After more than ten minutes, the music began to change back into stock phrases and hooks, spiraling down from the heights it had attained. Peter was coming out of The Zone. To this day, I have never seen anyone short of Stevie Ray Vaughan equal the intensity and emotion of that guitar solo.
I have hoped over the years that I would be able to attain that kind of kinship with my instrument, and have had brief glimpses of it from time to time while I am playing, but never have I been blessed with an experience such as that one.
In an entirely different environment, I have seen a close friend enter The Zone. I went to watch her test for her black belt in Tang Soo Do, a style of Korean karate. The test was grueling, yet she seemed to settle in to it with ease and grace. I realized she was fully in The Zone when she displayed her forms, however. One form in particular showcased the grace and beauty of Tang Soo Do; it was a long, slow form that nearly traversed the length of the dojo, and it seemed to be based very strongly in energy manipulation. As she passed in front of me, I saw the faraway look in her eyes and realized that she was on another level. Her body was responding to the energy so fully that I could almost see the power flow around her, in and out of her lungs and muscles. She was an incredible balance of grace and power, and I gained a great amount of respect for her abilities that afternoon. Of course, she passed the black belt test easily.
The closest I have come to that kind of experience was during a sonic meditation in Phoenix. I went mainly out of curiosity, but left convinced that meditation in general is a strong way to tune in to The Zone. The process involved lying in a darkened room while the facilitator manipulated various sound producing objects, from simple blocks of wood to Tibetan bells to a very large gong. I had no problem relaxing into the meditation and allowing visuals to form in my mind’s eye, but I was not in The Zone at that point. When the Tibetan bells started, I was astounded at the clarity of sound and was unable to focus on anything else. I started letting go of my own perception of reality. Then, the gong started slowly and quietly. The facilitator knew the gong well, and was able to get widely varying sounds by hitting it in different places and different ways, making a gradual crescendo. By the time the gong was sounding at its peak, I literally felt that every wave of sound was a physical medium that rocked my body as if I were in a boat. I had the sensation of floating and, later, flying for an unknown length of time. At some point in my mental journey, the facilitator began the sequence of sounds to bring us back, and when I returned to my body (I can’t describe it in any other way!) it was completely slack and relaxed. Moving my body took several minutes of great effort, starting with clenching and relaxing my fist and working through the rest of my body. I’m not sure where I went, but I know I had the sensation of flying and floating and that I was not aware of the state my physical body was in. It was a bit frightening, but also invigorating for me. I think this was an extreme example of The Zone; perhaps beyond it, because usually being in The Zone requires maintaining some contact with your body in order to channel the energy. All of my energy was directed somewhere other than my body, as evidenced by the extreme relaxed state that it was in when I woke.
It would be nice to be able to enter The Zone whenever I wanted to. I have experimented with various types of meditation and have had limited success, but it has never been reliable for me. I have a theory that it is possible to enter The Zone through any type of disciplined action or practice: sports, martial arts, music, meditation, prayer are all examples of pathways to The Zone. Some people who are extremely good at what they do seem to be able to call it forth on command. I strongly suspect that they are all tapping into the same energy source through different methods. If anyone else has thoughts on this matter, I would be interested to hear your comments. Let me know how you feel on this matter, whether you agree or disagree.