The racquet seems like an extension of his hand. The opponent seems to be playing exactly the way he wants him to play. The shots he selects are the best possible shots for the situation. The ball seems to travel exactly where he wants to put it. For that period he can do no wrong and the entire game is totally under his control.
A tennis player calls this being ‘In the Zone’. For the period for which he is in the zone he is the game, he is the player, he is the racquet and he is the ball.
While he is in the zone, is he excited about being so close to a championship victory? Is he mentally spending the money that the victory will gain him? Is he, maybe, thinking of how his coach and cohorts will laud him or how his girl friend will reward him at night? Or, maybe, he is thinking of winning the Grand slam this year?
Perhaps he is afraid of losing that lucrative sponsorship deal if he loses the match? Afraid that his uber-cool girlfriend would leave him if he lost? Angry at the opponent for putting it across him in the Australian open and wanting revenge? Afraid of how the Press would write him off as a has-been with one more defeat?
Yeah! Right! The correct answer, as you have guessed it, is none of the above. At least when the player is ‘in the zone’ none of these thoughts can cross his mind. Whether playing the game without a thought for consequences is a sufficient condition for entering that state of mind called ‘being in the zone’, I do not know, but it certainly is a necessary condition.
Whatever game! Anything you do if you can do it without a thought for the consequences, at least for as long as you are doing it, it improves the possibility of entering the zone. Believe me, the times when you are operating in the zone gives you an ineffable pleasure quite apart from what you can materially get out of doing it. This, probably, is what was meant when they said, ‘Work is its own reward’. (Not the ‘if you do good work you will be rewarded with more work’, which is the common interpretation in corporate life).
Karma Yoga talks of work with detachment. Work, as in the definition of Karma Yoga, is whatever you say or do every moment of your life and not merely the time for which you punch the clock. Whatever life throws your way to be, to say or to do should be carried out without any expectations or fears of consequences. If you can detach yourself from hopes and fears, I believe that you can be perpetually ‘in the zone’! Thus, a tennis player who is ‘in the zone’ is, for that period, a Karma Yogi.
To be a Karma Yogi 24x7 is not given to us mortals. What we can strive to achieve is to increase the possibility of taking joy from work i.e of being in the zone. Firstly, it is best to choose an area of work where you do have interest if not passion. Secondly, even if consequences do matter, the work should also matter. Thirdly, while doing the job take pride in doing a good job regardless of whether the incremental efforts will lead to commensurate material rewards.
To exemplify it, let me take the community of bloggers. When you choose to write what you have a passion to write and not what you think will get you the most footfalls; when writing for a competition, you take up the subject and write what you feel about the subject and don’t try to write what you think the sponsor would most like and, while you are writing, you are lost in the act of writing and not in thoughts of the prizes you are more likely to be ‘in the zone’!
The biggest problem that comes in the way of people doing their best even in their own chosen area of work is that they feel a better job redounds to the benefit of the employer, who will take the benefits without so much as a ‘Thank you’! If that be the case, my only advice is ‘Screw the Employer, don’t screw up your work!’ Shoddy work does not give one a sense of self-worth and a lack of self-worth spoils everything in life.
Being a Karma Yogi 24x7 would be ideal. Even traveling the path to the ideal is rewarding. Material rewards, as well, for obviously you do a good job when you are ‘in the zone’ and you cannot keep a good man down, can you?