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Mindful Living, Mindful Shooting - Part III of a series
By Jeffrey47

Zen bones, Zen muscles, Zen Mind

As we continue our inquiry into mindfulness in dice influencing, regard for the ageless traditions of the East seems inevitable.  Eastern philosophy is deeply rooted in discipline in both mind and action, and in both person and community.  If dice influencers feel an affinity, it could derive, in part, from this.

A popular misunderstanding, however, is that Eastern philosophy, and Zen in particular, involve the invocation of some kind of trance-like state of consciousness.  To the best of my understanding, getting into a trance is neither the object nor result of living (or shooting) mindfully, nor is it the object of the most common forms of meditation practice, the martial arts, Zen study, or the “Eastern ways.”  If anything, the point is often made that the only trance to be concerned with may be the one we suffer because of our over-thinking minds; a trance from which we may awaken.  Ultimately, this may simply involve seeing more deeply and more consciously, without strain.

There would appear to be utility in this for dice influencers, not as a ticket to some mystifying trance-like shooting zone, but as a context for our efforts to achieve a consistent, well-grounded, mindful attitude toward our dice-influencing pursuits.

I had not contemplated we head to our local Zen center for sitting meditation and Dharma talks, or that we visit ascetic monks in Tibet, or even that we take up Yoga, Transcendental Meditation, T’ai Chi, Aikido or any other particular discipline as an adjunct to our dice-influencing efforts.

Our focus is going to stay right where it belongson our work with the dice.  As we become more deeply involved, opportunities for enriching our mind-set will abound.

The muscle-memory mystery

Last time, we began investigating the topic of intensity, anticipating an “effortless calm” at its core.  We’ll return to the interplay between intensity and calm, in due course.

First, it should be helpful to reacquaint ourselves with our old friend, “muscle memory.”  We’ll more easily discover calm skies if we stop floundering in the tricky currents of a muscle-memory mental storm impeding the view.

From what I can discern, the term muscle memory first entered the popular vernacular in the context of weight training and muscle building.  Some of you probably have first-hand experience with this.  After a layoff, weight lifters are usually more efficient at rebuilding muscle mass and re-sculpting their shape in subsequent efforts.

Of course, it’s the familiar movements and progressive resistance levels, careful monitoring of “muscle burn,” and even diet and nutrition, that a body builder uses to bring his muscles back into condition.  Weight lifters must understand this, but that apparently hasn’t stopped the idea from taking root in popular thinking that muscles themselves are capable of memory, which of course they are not, nor need they be.

Whether everyone really knows that muscles don’t have a memory, I’m not sure.

In any event, labels (such as “muscle memory”) are powerful agents in determining how we think, and, uh . . . how we THINK has a lot to do with how we SHOOT.  Remember?

Just what are we thinking when we think about muscle memory in dice?  And, by the way, has anybody ever established that it’s really helpful to be thinking in terms of muscle memory?  Maybe the ideas we hold dear about it make it harder to hone our skills, not easier.

I’m not making a case for black or for white in this, at least not just yet.  I pose the matter because there really is a lot we don’t understand in this area.  We rely on an idea of muscle memory without really knowing what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

If it’s not in our muscles, where is it?

The neurological process most responsible for what we call muscle memory is proprioception.  It’s a catch-all term that includes a number of different central nervous system pathways that control our muscles (including even the muscles attached to our eyes) and monitor our physical orientation and movements, as well as providing equilibrium, a sense of gravity, and as we’ll see, much more.  Proprioception is considered the real “sixth sense” by the guys in the lab coats, after touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing.  It’s a profoundly complex, multi-layered and inter-connected system of conscious and unconscious mental and physical processes and properties.

Memory itself, even apart from its role in proprioception, is also complex, of course.  It has captivated philosophers, scientists, artists, poets, and  probably anyone who has given it a moment’s thought.  It’s now known that memory involves changes in neurological connections in the brain in a yet-to-be-completely-understood chemically and electrically driven process called neural plasticity.

The processes of our “sixth sense,” proprioception, combined with neural plasticity in the brain; this may be the best explanation we’ve got for the time being for how muscle memory works, or at least where it works.

So the idea that muscles themselves have memory is simply beguiling.  Muscles don’t have the capacity for memory any more than our brains can do curls.

Ideas about muscle memory in dice influencing

In the precision-shooting context, muscle memory is usually mentioned as something we “lock in” during practice in order to “groove in” later; with lots of variations on this theme that we’re all familiar with.

In the glossary here on Irish’s site, muscle memory is defined as “the process of training your body to repeat your precision shooting throwing mechanics by rote memory.”

MP adds:  “Once we narrow down the elements of the Precision-Shooting toss that works best and most consistently for US, then we can turn our focus towards building muscle-memory.  Muscle-memory is how we train our bodies to do things almost automatically…we train our bodies to do something so repetitively, that it becomes like second-nature to us, and our actions become virtually automatic.”  (More Gain & Less Pain, Part 3, Tip 23)

Yet, in his book, “Dice Control for Casino Craps,” Yuri doesn’t mention muscle memory at all; instead, he talks about “paying attention” to our toss, and about coordinating our body movements.  Stanford Wong, in his book, “Wong on Dice,” makes no mention of muscle memory, either.  He does warn we need to “monitor our skill constantly.”

Sharpshooter, on the other hand, talks quite a bit about muscle memory.   In “Get the Edge at Craps,” he includes an entire section called “Creating Muscle Memory in Three Weeks,” and provides his thumbnail explanation about how he believes it works in a section he calls “Delivery Style.”

Surprisingly, even with all these references, and many more throughout the DI literature, my obsessive need to understand muscle memory was not satisfied.  If I’m not satisfied, even with Mad Professor’s direction, I really begin to worry.  I found myself desperately seeking clarity on the subject.  After looking into it a little further, hopefully with an open mind, I have come to believe that some of the ways we might be thinking (or not thinking) about muscle memory may be about as useful for skilled shooting as the hardways set is for seven-avoidance.

Let me tell you what I’ve come up with, and maybe you’ll be re-evaluating the way you think about muscle memory a little bit, too.

What else are the guys in lab coats saying?

The terms used in psychology for muscle memory include among others, procedural memory, skill memory, and implicit motor learning.  It’s beyond the scope of this article to run it all down, of course.  But psychologists seem to like it that skills can be acquired through physical practice without our even knowing it.  The learning is considered implicit, or unconscious.  Prime examples are learning to walk or to ride a bicycle.  We don’t really know how it happens, while it happens, it just does, and that’s that.  Implicit motor learning.  Mysterious, almost magical.  Psychologists love it. 

For dice influencing, however, a more useful concept of muscle memory than the unconscious-learning model psychologists favor, comes from the field of kinesiology.  Kinesiology is the study of the interrelationship of human physiology and anatomy with respect to movement.   In kinesiology, muscle memory is said to involve “a finely tuned sense of our physical orientation, leaving us free to concentrate (on other things).”

Wow!  I think we may be getting somewhere!

From this standpoint, “muscle memory” is not as concerned with recording memory as it is with sensing what we’re doing.  It involves our maintaining awareness rather than depending on something to be locked mysteriously away.

In my view, thinking about a process of continually monitoring ourselves provides a more dynamic framework for maintaining and improving our skill than thinking about a mere background function somehow recording our efforts for later automatic play-back from the recesses of our unconscious.  We’re actively engaged whenever we play, rather than passively hoping muscle memory will kick in and do the job for us.

Let me put it this way:  Our muscle memory is only as good as our active proprioceptive skills will allow.

Viewed this way, if we do well we can congratulate ourselves for our achievement, and if we don’t do so well we know we’re responsible for the results in the present.  We’re confident we’ll quickly find a way to fix the problem because that’s exactly what we’ve trained ourselves to do through our finely tuned proprioceptive sense.

What we won’t have is the lame excuse in the back of our mind that our muscle memory wasn’t locked in right.  We won’t be guarding ourselves from taking immediate responsibility for failure while scolding ourselves at the same time for apparently ineffective practice habits.  (With this kind of thinking, maybe a shrink would be more helpful than more practice.)

You’ve heard it before: muscle memory can lock in bad habits.   But the worst consequence is not so much the inconsistent shooting that rote practice can bring; it’s our habit of thinking in terms of an unconscious, automatic process taking place beyond our apprehension, over which we have no apparent present-tense control.  By giving in to this thinking, we dilute our skill rather than support it because we’re sacrificing the depth and full integration of our conscious and unconscious motivations and single-minded involvement every time we pick up the dice.

Now, add to that, the proprioceptive tract that monitors and directs our movements also contains neural circuitry that detects and expresses our emotions, including our feelings and attitude about ourselveseven our passion for the game.  These systems actively share information, so that our emotions continuously affect our body, and our body continuously affects our emotions.  Insufficient attention to our proprioceptive awareness can thus wreak havoc not only with our physical skills directly, but it also opens the door for inattention to the all-important emotional frame of our efforts.  So how we think about muscle memory affects not only how we throw the dice, but also how we feel about ourselves as we practice and shoot.  The potential for a vicious cycle of flagging passion and fading skill should be obvious.

We might be in for a difficult struggle moving our skill forward relying on any process we think of as “implicit” and therefore so veiled from our present awareness that we may feel virtually helpless to affect any current control over its unfolding.  Whenever I hear about “grooving in muscle memory,” I think of a mind that may be getting progressively more insulated from the active role required of it if we’re to maximize our present potential as skilled shooters.

Changing our thinking about muscle memory

We need to be vigilant against letting the idea of muscle memory denude our toss of its dynamic vitality.  Let’s not disconnect from the full spectrum of information in the moment-to-moment flow of our senses as we shoot, based on loosely formulated, popular thinking about “muscle memory.”

If, instead of relying on the tenuous idea of implicitly acquired skills, we mindfully engage our skill of applied proprioception to become and to remain intimately familiar with our toss, to thoroughly understand its dynamics, and to actively sculpt it in the present tense, I think we will have taken a big step in the evolution of our DI consciousness.

When we bring that kind of intensity to the execution of each toss, we learn a deeper-reaching awareness where conditions and processes we may have believed were inaccessible to us begin to emerge to enrich our skill-set.  Newly acquired insights can begin to become more automatic as we learn them, sure, but without sacrificing a moment’s opportunity for continued new insight and without risk of slipping backward from having let our proprioceptive guard-dogs go on break.  As I said before, our muscle memory will only be as useful to us as our active proprioceptive skills will allow.

Okay, so we’re paying attention . . . to what again?

Our focus here has been on developing a greater awareness of how it feels as we shoot, so that we can most skillfully repeat a successful toss or implement the very subtle changes that become necessary to correct mistakes or dial in.  It’s one thing observing the dice in the air and as they land, but it’s quite another to feel our toss mechanics internally through our proprioceptive sense.  In precision shooting, we need to be noticing not only what the dice to after we toss them; we also need to tune it to what we’re doing to get the dice to do what they’re doing.

If we really don’t know exactly how each toss feels from our feet to our fingertips, we may be unwittingly squandering the benefits we should derive from carefully observing the reactions of the dice.  Without a high degree of self-awareness, we’ll be less able to sense and then execute the subtle, precision modifications of our base toss suggested by the reactions of the dice in order to dial in a table, take advantage of our current skill, and continue rolling the dice.

Having said that, it’s important to realize that enhancing our proprioceptive sense also primes the cerebral pump for our skill of observing the reactions of the dice.  By the concentration we’ve already achieved paying close attention as we toss, we’re better attuned to the reactions of the dice as well.  All that information, first from the feel of our toss, and then from the reactions of the dice, combines into a comprehensive and integrated whole, resulting in a more immediate experience of clarity as we prepare for each successive shot.

The progressive acquisition of increasingly enhanced awareness, especially during a successful, longer sequence of rolls, is worth investigating as a likely source of what some skilled shooters refer to as “getting in the zone.”  I’m looking forward to devoting attention to this interesting area later on in this series of articles.

In later installments, we’ll also discuss some things we can do to deepen our proprioceptive awareness and raise the level of our concentration.  We’ll look into how we can enlist our emotions as allies rather than possible enemies as we develop our skill.  And there will be opportunities to further investigate the whereabouts of those calm mental seas we’re hoping to discover as we continue our efforts to find a consistent dice-influencing mind-set, hopefully free at last of any unsettled feelings we might have had about our old friend “muscle memory.”

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