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Mindful : February 2016
“ the game to pursue his dream of playing base- ball. Jackson, who’d studied Zen meditation, had dabbled in teaching meditation to the players as a way to help them deal with the absurd pres- sures of the basketball life. But George could bring the training to a deeper level. Not only that, he had played ball at UMass and been Hall of Famer Julius (Dr. J) Erving’s roommate, which gave him instant cred with the players. At first, the players made light of George’s ses- sions. One day they arrived at practice wearing T-shirts showing a player dozing during medita- tion with a headline that read, “I’ve Been Mum- fied.” But, over time, Jackson noticed the team’s focus and energ y slowly improving. As forward Scottie Pippen told one reporter, “ You don’t know how to operate if you haven’t been Mumfied.” Jackson describes Mumford as a “medium” who helps players connect with a deeper part of themselves. “George opens the doors for them to have these ah-ha moments,” he says. “A lot of the g uys in the NBA have been taught about emotional control, but they’ve never been taught about why thoughts arise and how not to get sucked into them. George helps them under- stand that they’re not just their thoughts. They can get into that space where they’re just watch- ing their thoughts and allowing them to happen without acting on them.” In the years that followed, Mumford worked with the Bulls as they charged—mindfully, of course—to their second three-peat champion- ship, including a record-setting 72-10 season in 1995-96. Then a few years later, he joined Jack- son in LA to help motivate the Lakers to win a three-peat series of their own. Along the way he developed a series of principles that have guided his work ever since: 1. BE STILL AND KNOW One of the first things Mumford talked about with the Bulls was the power of stillness, which he had learned practicing tai chi and other mar- tial arts. “ When the mind is still,” he says, “ you have an inner knowing when and how to strike. It’s playing the game on a spiritual level. You may not know what you’re going to do next, but in that moment you have the ability to see and act simul- taneously without a hair’s breadth in between.” Athletes often refer to this as being “in the zone,” a state in which time is altered, every- thing is done effortlessly, and, as Mumford that the next time the intercom came on, he wanted them just to notice the sound and try not to interpret it in any way. What he was trying to do was get them to elongate the per- ception process so that they could take in more of what was happening. As psychologist Victor Frankl famously said, “between stimulus and response there is a space” and “in our response lies our growth and freedom.” Kabat-Zinn was impressed by what he saw. “George can basically talk to anybody and make sense of something that on the surface seems like much ado about nothing,” he says. “ You’re going to get people to sit still and do nothing, and that’s going to benefit them? But George really lives this stuff, and people can feel it. He’s so authentic. So totally George. He makes people feel better and say, ‘I want that.’’’ Madeline Klyne, a meditation teacher who worked on the project, was struck by the light- hearted way George punctured illusions. “He cracks people up and invites them to laugh at themselves,” she says. “People can get pretty grim. But he used to say, ‘Everyone is in prison.’ The people in prison and the people out of prison. Everybody’s suffering. So how do we get out of that?” As it turned out, the prison project led Mumford to his dream job. In the summer of 1993, Kabat-Zinn was doing a workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, and mentioned the success George was having with inmates. It just so happened that Phil Jackson’s then-wife, June, was in the audience and got Phil jazzed up about bringing George in to work with the Chicago Bulls. When George arrived at training camp in October, the team was in a state of upheaval because its star, Michael Jordan, had just left He opens the doors for players to have ah-ha moments.” Phil Jackson, 11-time winner of the NBA championship as head coach of the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers, and current president of the New York Knicks 50 mindful February 2016 peak performance