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Zanshin: What is it?

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Zanshin is a word used commonly throughout Japanese martial arts to refer to a state of relaxed alertness. Zanshin means “the mind with no remainder.” In other words, the mind completely focused on action and fixated on the task at hand.

Zanshin is constantly aware of your body, mind, and surroundings without stressing yourself. It is an effortless vigilance.

In practice, though, Zanshin has an even deeper meaning. Zanshin is choosing to live your life intentionally and acting with purpose rather than mindlessly falling victim to whatever comes your way.

There is a famous Japanese proverb: “After winning the battle, tighten your helmet.”

In other words, the battle does not end when you win. The battle only ends when you get lazy, when you lose your sense of commitment, and when you stop paying attention.

This is Zanshin as well: the act of living with alertness regardless of whether the goal has already been achieved.

The enemy of improvement is neither failure nor success. The enemy of improvement is boredom, fatigue, and lack of concentration. The enemy of improvement is a lack of commitment to the process because the process is everything.

We live in a world obsessed with results. We tend to put so much emphasis on whether or not the arrow hits the target. If, however, we put that intensity and focus and sincerity into the process, where we place our feet, how we hold the bow, how we breathe during the release of the arrow, then hitting the bullseye is simply a side effect.

The point is not to worry about hitting the target. The point is to fall in love with the boredom of doing the work and embrace each piece of the process. The point is to take that moment of Zanshin, that moment of complete awareness and focus, and carry it with you everywhere in life.

It is not the target that matters. It is not the finish line that matters. It is the way we approach the goal that matters. 

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