Focused Relaxation, or Relaxed Focusing. The Principle of Bù Wàng Bù Zhù (不忘不助)

In the demanding world we live in, maintaining mental clarity is essential.

Yet, the traditional Western approach to relaxation—taking breaks or unplugging from work—and focus—maintaining our attention on a specific task—often falls short in providing the deep rejuvenation needed in high-stress environments. Here, the ancient practice of qi gong offers a transformative perspective through its unique principle of “neither distract oneself nor be self-absorbed (in Mandarin, “不忘不助 bù wàng bù zhù)”. I owe a debt of gratitude to two instructors, Stefano and Li, for showing me its wide implications.

This principle challenges the conventional notions of relaxation and focus. Instead, it introduces a non-focused awareness, characterized by diffused concentration and an unobtrusive presence. This form of attention is not about zeroing in on a single task or completely detaching from our work, but maintaining a soft awareness of both one’s internal state and the surrounding environment. The result is a state of calm alertness, where mind and body are in harmony, facilitating a continuous, relaxed awareness.

Applying this principle in a work setting could significantly enhance productivity and creativity.

For instance, instead of pushing ourselves through relentless work sessions, we could integrate short, mindful practices like focused breathing or quiet reflection to reset our mental state and foster a more dynamic and creative work environment. This approach is not limited to individual practices; teams can benefit from structured group activities that promote this kind of relaxed focus. Incorporating guided group meditations before brainstorming sessions, or encouraging walking meetings in a natural setting, can lead to fresh ideas and perspectives. Such practices would help mitigate mental fatigue and open up space for innovative thinking and deeper engagement with the task at hand.

Cultivating the practice of relaxed focus requires two things.

Firstly, it involves recognizing signs of excessive concentration—mostly tension, frustration, or fatigue—and consciously choosing to engage in a broader, more inclusive form of awareness. You’ll soon notice that reducing the mental clutter that often hampers clear thinking and problem solving in high-pressure situations is way harder than it seems.

Secondly, it requires us to challenge ourselves, to let go of our fears of the unknown, and to practice more than reading this blog post or thinking too much about it.

But you know how it works: luck rewards those who try.

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