Quest to find one's Mushin in times of Covid 19
It was recently during one of my management development training session on Emotional intelligence; I was introduced to the idea of ‘Mushin’. One of the participants chose the name ‘mushin’ when asked to describe himself with an alternative name. ‘Do you know what it means?’ the participant asked me. ‘No,’ I replied. Though, I could puzzle out the literal meaning with the help of all-knowing Google Baba but, I knew he wasn’t asking me if I understood the word. He wanted to ask if I knew the ‘concept.’
Mushin is one of the principles of Zen. It is a state of mind where the mind is not subjugated by any thought or emotion. In Mushin, ‘Mu’ means ‘empty’.Thus Mushin refers to an ‘empty mind’ in the sense that disruptions, fixations, dreads, and worries, are nonexistent and are no more a concern for the mind in daily life. In other words, it refers to evacuating the mind from all distractions, preoccupations, and all other chains of thoughts.
Life flings on us many challenges and hurdles for allowing us to grow and realize our self-worth. The current state of Covid 19 pandemic has globally exacerbated high uncertainty over the finances, employment, economy, interpersonal connections, the physical and mental health of countries and its people. The concern, however, is how do we learn and grow from the dread, panic, and anxiety attached to the current state instead of getting consumed by it? How do we alter our mindset so that we move ahead, instead of being incapacitated by fear and anxiety? One of the things that we can practice to reduce the effect of stress and anxiety is trying to enter our minds in the state of Mushin.
People can experience a state of “Mushin” in diverse fields such as painting, singing, writing, craft, engaging in any imaginative quests or maybe in company of someone special whom they innately admire and love. Others may find it in physical activities like during work out, dance, running, sports etc. Many of us in life can recall of moments where we just flew along with the time, without any idea as to where the time went. Imagine a painter painting a beautiful portrait and being so focused that he fails to realize what is around him or a corporate professional working on a spreadsheet does not get bothered by Email alerts, social media pop-ups etc. When sitar maestro late Pt. Ravi Shankar used to play a raaga; he did not plan the notes he was going to touch while taking alaap. He performed through the music and switched from one note to another as it came to him. The state of mushin leaves us so absorbed and focused in the present moment, that our movements become instinctive. In neurological terms in the mental state of mushin, the pre-frontal cortex is reported to be decreased in blood flow, which permits decisions to be formed more by the person’s instinctual subconsciousness. This phenomenon is elucidated by science as transient hypofrontality.
In times of pandemic outbreak, our mind is driven to attach itself to the past or be anxious about the future. Undoubtedly, we need to keep ourselves aware of the reality, but we should avoid overthinking about the future to avoid entering in a self agonizing zone. To engage oneself in a meaningful pursuit, can help in keeping our mind in the present moment. We have all heard the overquoted saying ‘do what you love and love what you do.’ Busy chasing life and career goals and shouldering responsibilities, not all of us get a chance to implement this saying in life. What if we use this lockdown time to discover what we truly love to do and if possible, within the existing limitations, maybe pursue it too. For instance, the state of mushin that I experience while writing a ‘thought paper’ comes without any conscious effort but the blissful feeling keeps me positively charged for the rest of the day. My neighbourhood friend claims of experiencing it when she recently started making Mahbubani Art in times of lockdown.
So, instead of drooling over those extraneous factors which are not in our control like curfew, lack of covid19 vaccine or dwindling economy, better to contemplate and cultivate situations in which we can or have experienced this state of mushin before. It’s important to mention here that to experience mushin the cultivated pursuit should be of one’s self-interest that you can do and not done merely to imitate or impress others. Ralph Ellison, in his famous novel ‘Invisible Man’ says, ‘When I discover who I am, I’ll be free!’ So while life has forced us in a lockdown, why not take baby steps towards such freedom?