I certainly didn't expect to hear this week that the simple concentration technique John practiced daily in the first Weightlessness Tribe would help his father get through MRI cancer screenings six years later.
It's truly remarkable when deep work done in silence, the stuff nobody sees or knows about, creates ripples over time with such meaningful impact.
John, like most participants back then, didn't really connect with his target program in the beginning. In earlier tribes, trainees were exposed to well rounded mind-body conditioning, but I'd select personalized targets designed to expedite their growth, their integration, and their performance.
These were not easy targets.
He entered the program feeling disconnected, distracted, and overworked... unsure when he'd given up his power. He knew it wasn't the version of himself he felt proud of, knew there was untapped potential he wasn't sure how to access.
He wasn't really connected to his target in the beginning, but he relinquished control and took it on faith that sitting for hours a week, visualizing numbers, counting backwards with increasing difficulty week on week, would do something useful.
Reverse counting has since become a standard metric within the pillar of meditation for all Weightlessness trainees, used to hone and intensify one's capacity for concentration. Many of us think we're not gifted in that arena - easily distracted on the functional end, or suffering from ADD at the dysfunctional end. But all of us are imbued with the ability to focus, the main determinate being one's effort over time.
Without going into the science, many know this intuitively, signing their kids of up for martial arts, gymnastics, or music lessons at a young age. These crafts require attention on one thing to the exclusion of other thoughts, options, or sensate data points - concentration.
All of us have that thing that we can do for hours. The challenge we face is applying that same level of attention to activities beyond. The challenge is determining whether that ability to hold attention is a passion (is circumstantial) or a capacity (a trait). If one finds genuine interest in something, connection and attention are effortless. But that's not capacity.
Capacity has no domain. Concentration, as a skill, can be applied to whatever the wielder of said skill chooses.
It's the byproduct of conscientious attention and discipline over time, not merely the surrender to immediate curiosity. As such, the single best mechanisms to cultivate this skill are not objects of passion, but are instead monotonous, tedious, measurable, and scalable exercises. Boring exercises.
Can you think of anything worse than counting backwards for thirty minutes to an hour every day?
Neither could John, initially. It sucks... in the beginning.
It sucks until you surrender, until you cease wanting to be somewhere else, doing something else. And then the breath regulates. And attention narrows to a single point - dense yet vibrant.
And then the mind opens.
After three months John achieved his target - consistent and reproducible 1,000 reverse counts without error. This generally demanded 50 to 110 minutes of strict concentration per sitting.
It wasn't a hat trick. It was a skill.
For most without training, consistently executing a reverse 300 count is very challenging. In Weightlessness Training, 500 marks the intermediate level. 800 the advanced level. And 1,000 and above, we're talking Lightness territory. It requires about a month to increase your skill level methodically by 200-300. As such, one cannot hack 1,000 count in less than two to three months of committed training.
I could see the impact of his training clear as day, as could those in his daily life that wondered what the hell happened to him. He reported to the Tribe in week fourteen that his confidence, his alertness, his attention to detail, were all sky high. He was thinking faster, remembering better, feeling more deeply.
He felt driven again. He got his power back.
His greatest challenge thereafter was in managing his perception of the mediocrity of those around him. He stopped cutting corners and, as can happen to anyone who raises their standards and levels of performance rapidly, it became challenging to tolerate slack around him. You begin to crave that edge. But that's a battle to discuss in another post, perhaps.
But let me return to John's email this week, which I'll share in entirety with you directly below. John's transformation was so obvious to those around him, including his father from a distance, that years later when his father was under the pressure of multiple cancer screenings over several years, he applied a tool he'd never deeply practiced, but one he intuitively associated with the ability to weather stress and maintain ones center.
It's one of the most fascinating applications of reverse counting I've ever seen, and, considering the degree of pressure he was under, a masterful implementation. That short story below!
"Hi Tom! I hope you're safe and well.
I was just speaking with my Dad and wanted to quickly retell his story, especially as he asked me to thank you for him.
He recently went through 3 major cancer operations and I'm glad to say he has fought them all off very successfully. Before each operation he had to go through a bunch of invasive and unpleasant check ups - the worst he says was the MRI scan. Not only is it a huge and intimidating machine, it also has a panic button "just in case", and makes an awful deafening noise. They do offer headphones with soothing music to try to block out the noise, but it does nothing to relieve stress or reduce the noise. You are then asked to lie perfectly still for 30 minutes so they can get a clear image...
A lot of people bail part way through, especially the elderly and confused.
On his first try he had no idea what to expect and prepared himself to think great thoughts, organise the rest of his day and get out of there feeling groovy. Then the machine started and he was blasted with a grinding and whirling mechanical noise that interrupted every attempt he made at finding some sense of calm... and then he remembered reverse counting.
After a couple of warm ups of 100 & 200, to feel it out and realise it could help, he went off the deep end and did 2000. He said it was an extraordinary experience. He could shut it all out. He immediately understood that he was his own worst enemy during the exercise and enjoyed "feeling" it out as he went through. He visualised his numbers, which added to the escapism, and without meaning to he said he finished with his lungs feeling very mellow - he had unconsciously regulated his breathing to assist in focusing on the challenge!
On the third visit they didn't even bother asking him if he wanted the headphones and told him "you're the only person we know that enjoys this!"
He passes on his sincere and heartfelt thanks."
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We're all gifted with incredible instruments that can generate, in a moment's notice, those states of being we desire - peace, presence, personal power. We can all cultivate them to a point of technical skill to be applied when it matters most - when we're under pressure. Be grateful for the extraordinary potential you've been gifted! And...