Some people believe you should "empty your mind" when practicing or performing Taijiquan. Some also believe that Qigong and Zen meditation is about "emptying" your mind.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
These practices are mindful, not mindless. You don't empty your mind, you focus your attention.
If I am practicing a form and empty my mind, I'm thinking of nothing, including the movements I'm performing. That is an empty practice and your movement will reflect it.
However, if I calm my mind -- if I replace thoughts of my schedule, my bills, and other daily activities with thoughts of the movement I am performing and the body mechanics and jin that give my movements their internal strength -- that is when my practice benefits the most.
Mindfulness is simply paying attention to what you are doing in the present moment. If you are in a business meeting, that means paying attention to whoever is speaking and focusing on the item at hand. If you are talking with anyone, including your significant other, being mindful means paying attention to what they are saying, not letting your mind roam to other things. When doing Qigong, mindfulness means paying attention to your breath or to mental visualizations of energy. In Zen meditation, it means focusing on the present moment, being aware of everything around you without judgment.
Chen Xiaowang, at the beginning of a form or standing practice would say, "Calm down." Then he said, "Listen behind you." That meant that you should be aware in all directions.
This mindfulness should stay with you all day, being aware of everything around you, and the task in front of you. Someone who practices mindfulness will not be seen walking across a street absorbed in their phone.
Most of us have a Monkey Mind. It jumps from one thing to another, in frantic motion. To become mindful in any activity, the first priority is to calm the Monkey Mind so you can focus on the task at hand.
My new book, "A Handful of Nothing," contains 88 short Zen stories. Some people mistakenly believe it is about emptying the mind. It is not. Zen is about being aware of this moment and remaining mindful.
Some people even watch TV with their phone in their hands. "I can multitask," some people will brag, but they are mistaken. Multitasking is a myth. It causes students to get lower grades. Adults who multitask perform less efficiently.
Have you ever done something, working on a project or writing something, and you get in the zone, focus on what you are doing, and suddenly you realize a lot of time passed and you didn't notice because you were focused? That's being mindful. And that is the focus you should strive for in everything you do, including any martial art.
--by Ken Gullette