5 Zen Mindsets For Mastery

How To Achieve Mastery In Any Area Of Life That Really Matters To You

5 Zen Mindsets For Mastery - In Any Area Of Your Life. Graphic of  samurai warrior

Introducing The 5 Zen Mindsets For Mastery

    The state of your mind has a very large bearing on the quality of your performance in any area of life that really matters to you.

There have been a number of popular films and TV series featuring actors whose characters have undergone months of intensive physical and mental training to achieve mastery in the practice of martial arts. My favourites are Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe in The Last Samurai.

Fortunately, you do not need to a be a practitioner of martial arts to practice and apply these mindsets - but it does help to have some experience of basic mindfulness practice. 

We can all learn and practice these mindsets and benefit by excelling in any area of life that is important to us.

The core themes of this site are about:

In this article we are going to look at how you can build on a basic mindfulness practice to develop and apply these 5 mindsets, but first there are three caveats:

In zen there are no categories, nothing can be separate.

We are labeling these mindsets - for ease of communication - but they are not independent of each other.

The limitations of words.

For everything that we gain by being able to speak about an experience, we lose a greater amount of the full meaning of that experience by speaking it.

Practice is required.

Reading about these mental states and thinking about them may feed your curiosity but that alone will not change you. These mental states are only acquired through persistent and consistent practice.

These 5 Zen Mindsets For Mastery are drawn from the world of martial arts, and are grounded in zen practices:

  1. Egoless Mind - a state of mind beyond thinking
  2. Flowing Mind - is fully present and aware whilst taking action
  3. Immovable Mind - does not get stuck, trapped or distracted
  4. Focused Mind -  focused on action with an effortless vigilance
  5. Non-Attached Mind - does not seek to gain anything

    Knowledge is knowing, wisdom is doing it.


Egoless Mind [Hishiryo] is a state of mind beyond thinking. Photo of still lake in the early morning mist.

Egoless Mind [Hishiryo] is a state of mind beyond thinking.

This is the normal condition of your consciousness when you are practicing mindfulness meditation.

The most basic mindfulness practice is sitting meditation [zazen] where you just sit in a comfortable position and focus on your breathing and then observe and be aware of your thoughts and emotions without engaging with them.

When you do this, you will be aware that your thoughts arise automatically and continuously. This is often referred to as your "monkey mind" because it never stops chattering.

If you let those thoughts appear without engaging with them, they will just drift away freely and then the stream of thoughts slows down to a trickle and eventually ceases.

Your intellect - your thinking mind - becomes quiet and peaceful and Egoless Mind [hishiryo consciousness] appears quite naturally.

When I first started attending mindfulness meditation sessions I found it helpful to see my thoughts as clouds appearing and drifting across the sky and then just fading away.

Can you stop thinking on demand?

It is a wonderful thing to be able to literally just stop thinking - whenever you want to!

I have learned to do this and I can - on demand - just stop thinking by becoming centred and focusing on my breath, accepting whatever thoughts and emotions are in my mind and heart and being still and inwardly quiet.

It takes some practise to be able to do this, but there is no magic or mystery to it. Anyone can learn to do this.

Mindfulness is a natural state.

We all have the capacity to be mindful.

Learning how to practise mindfulness is quite simple and involves a series of structured mental disciplines and habits that takes your natural and innate ability to be mindful and trains your mind to bring this under your conscious control so that it becomes a skill that you can use on demand.

The benefits of mastering this basic mindfulness practise are that it enables you:

  • To be aware of your body and what it is feeling.
  • To reduce your stress.
  • To be fully present and engaged with the tasks and activities you are engaged in.
  • To observe the endless repetitive cycles of your thoughts and feelings and to be free of them.
  • To notice how you become so immersed and totally identified with these thoughts and feelings.
  • To learn how to stop thinking and enjoy an inner space and peace - whenever you choose to do so.
  • To build the foundation on which you can develop the other four zen mindsets for mastery.


There are many articles on this site dealing with mindfulness and you can find these using the site map.

Alternatively, a good place to start is: How To Practice Mindfuness which has specific "how to do it" instructions and links to articles with extensive other resources on this site.


Flowing Mind [Mushin] is a mindset that is fully present and aware whilst taking action. Photo of Roger Federer playing tennis.

Flowing Mind [Mushin] is a mindset that is fully present and aware whilst taking action.

It is mindset of pure mental clarity devoid of ego and free of all emotions and thoughts. It is one that we often associate with great performers.

This is a mindset of doing without doing, a mindset of going with the flow, it:

  • Means being at peace whilst taking action - so you can perform with maximum skill and efficiency.
  • Describes a state of total immersion and profound concentration on what you are doing - being "in the zone".
  • Requires you to have achieved conscious competence in exercising the necessary skills to unconsciously undertake the required tasks and activities. i.e. to "work on auto-pilot".

Great sports people, such as Roger Federer in the picture above, have this mindset.

An everyday example is riding a bike. Once you learn how to ride without thinking, your consciousness will become familiar with the body movements, and you will start doing it automatically and effortlessly. 

Flowing mind is not preoccupied, with anything other than the specific activity you are performing at a certain moment. Thus you are free to act and react in whatever you do, and to do so without hesitation or disturbance.

High risk activities engender create intense present moment awareness.

Whenever you climb a steep ladder – or a rock-face – or drive a car at speed or engage in any physical activity where there is some degree of danger – have you noticed afterwards how you became oblivious to everything except your 100% concentration totally in the present moment?


Once you have got into the regular practise of sitting meditation, and also of observing your thoughts and emotional states throughout the day - and these practises are now becoming established as habits - let's step things up a bit and introduce the "washing the dishes" meditation!

This approach to practising mindful attention to simple everyday tasks can be extended to include these additional mindfulness exercises.

The whole point and purpose of doing this is to move beyond the confines of the meditation room and your basic sitting meditation [zazen] practice and to integrate it into all aspects of your daily life.

This is not hard to do, and as with all these practices the hardest bit is just doing it!


Immovable Mind [Fudoshin] is a mindset of total determination and unshakeable will that does not get stuck, trapped or distracted. Photo of a statue of an elephant.

Immovable Mind [Fudoshin] is a mindset of total determination and unshakeable will that does not get stuck, trapped or distracted.

As human beings we are so very easily distracted.

Immovable mind represents the highest level of focus as it is a mindset  that is not affected by any external factors and cannot be stopped on the way to its destination.

It is also a mindset that is not affected by internal factors such as resistance, doubt and fear, or what it thinks is "supposed to happen" it is completely confident of reaching its destination.

Immovable mind has total confidence in your competence to complete the task and get to its destination. It knows that you have put in the work to acquire and hone the necessary skills to reach the highest level of unconscious competence.

The immovable mindset is advanced because whilst immovable in its resolve it is also fluid and flexible and fully encompasses the qualities of egoless mind and flowing mind.

The immovable mindset does not suffer from any form of internal resistance or "immunity to change" that is at work "behind the scenes".

This resistance is based on an inner competing commitment to something which is 180 degrees from the direction of your intentions and which is trying to keep you "safe".

Please don't skip over this point and say "that doesn't apply to me" because there is a high probability that it does.

The human mind is very sticky and very easily distracted. Our subconscious minds are full of conflicting needs, desires and aversions.

We all have some level of inner resistance to our best intentions, and as Carl Jung allegedly said:

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate."


Unlike the ancient samurai warriors we have the benefit of a more advanced understanding of the neurology of the human brain and there are a number of systems and processes that you can use to harness and align all areas of your brain and to ensure that it remains focused on your intention at all times and in all circumstances.

If you really want to get all levels of your mind working for you then I suggest you take "a walk on the wildside" and look at Cybernetic Transposition.

This is a unique, proven and science-based series of processes which when used and applied as set out in this system gets all levels of your mind working together and moving you in the same direction, at the same time, towards the realisation of your goals.

I have used this system and it is very powerful - it also free.

You need to align your intention with your survival instinct

Whatever approach you adopt, at root you need to align your intention with your survival instinct - you need to be prepared to die for it.

This is powerfully illustrated with the story of the zen master and the water trough.

When your subconscious mind realises that you will risk anything and everything to achieve your core desire it sees the achievement of that desire as part of your survival and this reinforces and stabilizes your immovable mindset.


Focused Mind [Zanshin] is a mindset of relaxed alertness that is completely focused on action and fixated on the task at hand. It is an effortless vigilance. Photo of a soldier with a sniper rifle.

Focused Mind [Zanshin] is a mindset of relaxed alertness that is completely focused on action and fixated on the task at hand. It is an effortless vigilance.

The focused mindset is unstressed yet constantly aware of your body, mind, and surroundings.

The focused mindest is about  choosing to live your life intentionally and acting with purpose rather than aimlessly meandering through life.

To take archery as an example, if we put intensity, 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.

As James Clear puts it:

"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. How you approach your goal is what determines the outcome. Aiming is everything. 

Focusing on outcomes and goals is our natural tendency, but focusing on processes leads to more results over the long-run.

Shift your focus from the long-term objective to a daily focus on the process and the routine that will get you to that objective.

Practicing focused mindset means staying focused regardless of what has happened so far.

It is irrelevant if you are winning or if you are losing. It is irrelevant if you are starting or near the end.


6 Key Pointers To Help Your Point Of Focus Remain On What You Do Want


Non-Attached Mind [Mushotoku] is a mindset that does not seek to acquire or gain anything and that has no attachment to objects and outcomes. Graphic

Non-Attached Mind [Mushotoku] is a mindset that does not seek to acquire or gain anything and that has no attachment to objects and outcomes.

This mindset transcends dualities and involves an inner letting go of the ego and it can be reframed in the two phrases dying to self & dropping the ego which are Christian and Buddhist  expressions of the same fundamental truth.

This is probably the hardest mindset to practice and yet, second only to the ego-less mindset of mindfulness, is the most important .

This is about the need to correct the inbuilt, hardwired tendency to assume that everything revolves around "me".

This is also about achieving a balance between the harmony and peace of the inner world of consciousness and awareness with the requirements of surviving and functioning effectively in the outer world of duality.

This balance occurs when we draw daily guidance and inspiration from our inner world and execute and implement in the outer world with our thinking minds.

But first we need to understand the root issue and where it all goes horribly wrong.

Non-Attached Mind arises quite naturally when you quieten your mind and shift your focus away from yourself.

  • One of the best ways to do this is with mindfulness practice, the practice of gratitude or indeed any meditation practice that allows for space between the stream of thoughts and for consciousness to arise.
  • This is not a one-time experience but a frequent activity that should be undertaken at least daily and often many times throughout the day.
  • In daily life non-attached mind can be practiced by consciously setting aside your preferred outcome or goal - or indeed any outcome or goal - and just focusing on the processes involved in the task in hand.
  • Focusing on outcomes and goals is our natural tendency, but focusing on processes leads to better results over the long-run.
  • Putting someone else first and acting in a selfless way is another powerful way of practicing it.

Our natural tendency to be attached to the outcome can seriously inhibit our performance at the times when it really matters.

In business I have trained myself so that when I have an important meeting with a lot at stake,  I just treat it as "just another meeting", and focus totally on the meeting itself, and put the outcome out of my mind.

My daughter went for an important job interview, and she was unavoidably late in getting to it. She told me that she decided that she wasn't going to get the job and would just treat it as a "practice run".

Then when she was shown into the room where the interview panel were present she dropped her bag and her folder and papers were scattered all over the floor!

She made a joke of it and relaxed.

She then proceeded to give her best interview performance ever [or so she tells me!].

And or course you know what I am going to say now... she got the job!

At the "bigger picture level" non-attachment can be very hard for those of us with serious trust issues...

To really let go and stop trying to control our lives and to stop worrying and obsessing about the future is very hard for some of us.

In my experience a lot of the difficulty is rooted in our childhood and is to do with not feeling safe.

A related issue is that we may know in our heads that it is OK to drop attachment - but we don't because we can't feel it. I know because I have been like this for most of my adult life.

For those of us who feel like this the solution lies in the energetic [i.e. emotional and spiritual] dimension and we may need to experience an inner healing or release.

This is a big and important subject and is beyond the scope of this article, so if you feel like this please may I refer you to the following three articles and also please do feel free to contact me direct.

Who Do You Trust - Trust Is A Choice And It Creates Your Reality

Your Higher Self - Your Hardwired Portal To The Universe

Self Dialogue - Dealing With Your Many Selves

Contact me


Dying To Self & Dropping The Ego - Everything Does Not Revolve Around Me

How To Be Lived By The Tao - Connecting To Your True Source Of Power

The Wisdom Of A Person Who Masters In Any Art Is Reflected In Their Every Attitude.


Further Reading:

Beginners Mind [Shoshin] And The Voice Of Experience

Zen Enlightenment [Satori] - The End Of Delusion?

Next Article: Dealing With The Toxicity Of Online Dating

Return from "5 Zen Mindsets For Mastery" to: Walking The Talk

Contact me

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