Thoughts

Zanshin

Written by Andō McDonnellWellbeing

Zanshin (Japanese 残心) is a state of relaxed, alert, awareness.

Translated literally, it means “remaining mind”.

Zanshin is a state of total awareness.

It is a mind of vigilance, aware of it’s surroundings.

Zanshin is the continued state of spirit, mental alertness and physical readiness to meet the situation. Any situation.

This is a mind that is calm, aware of its surroundings, and present in every moment. It is the heart mind, or root mind. The source of our being. Of all beings.

A still mind, unattached to anything, it is fully present in the moment and action (therefore in all moments and actions) in the here and now.

This sense of total awareness and presence just that, total. If we practice zanshin, we bring it to the mindfulness of bathing, dressing, eating, tidying, interacting with others, working. We treat all actions as equally important, doing them with zanshin.

Being fully present, whatever action is occurring, when we eat, we eat. Simple like that.

As I write this article, I write from zanshin. Fully here. Fully present with the words, the meaning they carry, the task at hand.

Pausing to sip my tea, I just sip my tea. I am not divided, or scattered, I am whole and present, fully aware, total in my presence, experience and actions.

Moving in life like this, little by little, we discover that there are no ordinary moments, nor any extraordinary moments. No one thing is more special than any other. This is life in the flow. Fully aware. Fully present.

We are approaching all activities, all situations with the same sincerity and intensity, the same awareness. This is a state of equilibrium.

Done from the steady ground of zanshin, the outcome of our actions and activities are equal. We embrace process, not solely focused on a goal.

In embracing the process, we fall in love with it. Even the most tiresome of tasks. Embracing it fully, we can fall in love with any process, any action.

If we have trouble with doing accounts, dealing with banks, spreadsheets, tax and other practical necessities for example. If we don’t embrace them, setting them aside, holding preferences for other activities, we will fail in their completion. Or if we attempt them, but are not fully in them, we will fail in their completion. There will be errors.

If, when doing them, we do them fully, not with part of us wishing we were elsewhere, we do them zanshin. The zanshin itself does them. When fully present in zanshin, a task is done fully, completely, and so is completed much more quickly too. Yet without haste. Total in the doing. Total in its completion.

Zanshin is mastery.

What is a master of any art or skill?

A master is one with a still mind, who can perform or move through any action, with full presence, total awareness, and leaving that action, let it go, bringing them-self fully to the next thing. Mastery flows from a root of undistracted, un-scattered stillness.

By moving through life this way, we can move anywhere, do anything, fully. Goals and targets are not the point. We are always in process. Even when we are standing still.

So even standing still can be zanshin.

Sitting at rest can be zanshin.

The Japanese tea ceremony, is performed, from before its start to after its finish, in zanshin. Every movement, every preparation, from the design and construction of the tea space, the selection and arrangement of the flowers and the art, to the inviting of the guests, the selection and preparing of the tea. All are done with zanshin. Even the guests attending, prepare and arrive with zanshin, experiencing the tea and the ceremony through it. They arrive, fully present, they drink, fully present, they leave, fully present.

In breathing, it is neither the in breath, nor the out breath, yet it contains them both.

In many martial arts, zanshin is applied to the body’s return to resting state, after execution of a move or technique. Zanshin is maintained before, during, and after an action.

When distracted mind is present, it leaves a trace. Zanshin is to do everything completely, it is a flow, with complete follow through, leaving no trace, like a bird flying through the sky.

Done this way, everything is whole.

Each thing, completely as it is.

This is the mind like water that Bruce Lee referred to.

Flowing, water just flows. Still, it is simply still. Put it into a pot, it takes the shape of the pot.

Be like water, my friend.

Be zanshin.

Written by
Andō McDonnell
Poet and writer.
Ando is a talented and active writer - a woman who spent many years living in deep retreat from the world. Her poems are about silence, stillness, the research of inner peace, and the human relationship with nature. She shows us that a journey of self-discovery can be described with just a few words at a time: and the result can be beautiful and intimate poetry.

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