Two characteristics of playing in the zone that are not mentioned in Sport Psychology's analysis of flow are freedom and fullness. The fullness that you feel when you are in the zone comes from the full potential connection between your sensorimotor operating system and the athletic environment. But in order for that full potential connection to occur, you must first shift out of your normal connection to the environment. Your normal connection is a serial connection in which your operating system interfaces with only half of the available information in the environment, the “form” half.
The important distinction between a serial mode of operation and a parallel mode of operation is that a serial mode connects you sequentially to the parts of the environment, to form while a parallel mode of operation connects you simultaneously to the whole of the environment: to form and empty space.
So instead of a partially potentiated interface in which your sensorimotor operating system is asymmetrically connected to form only, a parallel mode of operation co-creates a fully potentiated interface in which your sensorimotor operating system is symmetrically connected to form and empty space equally and simultaneously. And it is this fully potentiated interface between body-mind and the whole of the athletic environment that brings with it the feeling of fullness that comes when you are playing your sport in the zone.
A flow state is a fully potentiated performance state, a state of wholeness, of completeness, and flow can be experienced by anyone; skill has nothing to do with wholeness. Novice players can get in the zone and feel the same sense of fullness that experts feel when they are in the zone. Flow is not skill-dependent. You don’t have to be an expert to have a full-potential experience in your sport. You do, however, have to connect your body-mind to the full potential of your athletic environment. And with that fully potentiated connection comes the sense of fullness that can be experienced by novice and expert, young and old, in all sports, all countries and all cultures. The fullness of the zone is for everyone.
So is its freedom.
Fullness and freedom; freedom and fullness – the bookends of flow. The fullness comes from a fully potentiated interface between body-mind and athletic environment. The freedom comes from…from what? Where does the sense of freedom come from when you are in the zone? In order to experience a sense of freedom, you must have broken free from something. Something must have kept you from the freedom you feel when you are in the zone; a freedom that is absent when you are playing your sport in the norm. So the question is: what is present when you are playing your sport in the norm that is absent when you are playing your sport in the zone?
The answer is self-consciousness, ego. Your egoic self gets dumped on the sidelines when you shift into the zone. In fact, this loss of ego is perhaps the most difficult challenge we all face when it comes to playing in the zone, yet the loss of ego is mandatory to the co-creation of flow in any sport, and the sense of freedom you feel when you are in the zone is partially due to this loss of ego, which brings with it the awakening of your Authentic Self.
Freedom from your egoic self gives rise to the freedom of your Authentic Self. And it is your Authentic Self that rides this sense of freedom into new and different performance territories; territories of novelty and greater complexity that go unseen when your ego shackles you to the norm. Your Authentic Self is unbounded, open, free to roam these unknown territories, and, in so doing, to creatively advance, not only on the field of competition but also in the field of life.
But there is still more to this sense of freedom that comes when you are loosed from the bondage of ego, and it comes with the recognition of something deeper, something ever-present, something Absolute – the Absolute Freedom from which all things arise. You, the game you play, the competitive culture in which you play the game, as well as all the other games being played in all the other places in the world.
The manifest realm arises in and with the Absolute Freedom that transcends Space and Time because it has never entered into the stream of Space and Time. It is the Absolute Freedom of Spirit, of God, of Buddha-Mind, of Christ-Consciousness, Big Mind, the Big Empty.
Call it what you will, but athletes in any sport can experience this freedom in both its relative face: the freedom from ego, and its Absolute Face: the Freedom of Ever-Present Spirit. Put them together, freedom and fullness, and you’ve got the zone’s extraordinary bookends.