As things feel for me, zanshin is a presence. More than just heightened awareness, zanshin is a presence that affects action. Best description is when someone walks into a room and you are drawn to pay attention to that person.
Zanshin, I find, is the fruit of experience in an engaged conflict. Once you get that experience, it becomes easier to train with that experience to reflect on. And it comes in all sorts of situations.
So, an anecdote of experience: The most devastating use of zanshin I ever applied I had no idea I was even doing until it was all over -- and involved only the figurative combat in a deposition - (formal transcribed judicial interview for the non-lawyers among us). I are a lawyer.
A former female employee sued my client on a bogus sexual harassment claim. Ok, so far. Deposition day. Asking the usual -- personal introduction, where you live, do you work now, --- are you married ... and then FULL STOP on that last one. She asks-- does she have to answer that ? Her attorney takes her aside. He invites me to ask it again. I ask it. She says -- I don't want to answer that. He takes her aside again, then invites me to ask again. I do. She says -- I am NOT going to answer that.
Fine. I say, -- Ma'am, I don't know that I really care about that or not, except for the fact that you won't tell, me, so I don't know. So, I tell you what ... how about I ask all the questions I may have around the topic to see if there's anything that really concerns my client's interests in this case, or not .. is that OK. She says -- Sure. So, away we go.
So, for ten minutes by the clock I ask her all the questions on the periphery of the issue of marriage that I can think of -- I am in intellectual hunt mode. My manner is pretty easy, plain, even nondescript on each question. Nothing intimate or personal. But I am just circling the no go zone with my attention bored in on it (even though I'm not even going to attack that point). Until finally, she asks if she can take a break (we always tell them they can take a break anytime).
Sure, I say, and I sit back. She goes with her attorney to the little snack area at the back of the court reporter's office, presumably to talk. The court reporter leaves, then they all come back.
Her attorney then announces that that she has herself decided to drop her claim, and they are dismissing her case. And he is not one known to back down from a case. I ask to get this of record -- which we do, then they leave. My astonishment is exceeded only by my curiosity.
As we are packing our stuff, the court reporter is chuckling to herself. I ask what is so funny. She recounts that as she was coming out of the bathroom past the snack area, she overheard her telling her attorney in a forceful voice: "That man --- he's the devil himself !" (Really, I'm not... and it never happened before or since ... a truly amazing incident.)
So, what made her so willing to give up her claim? In a word -- zanshin. Focused but unselective awareness, applied in conflict setting. The kind of projected awareness that no one feels they can avoid. The manner is easy, plain, even nondescript.
You don't know the opponent's vulnerability -- but the opponent does. Awareness reveals what you do not know-- and cannot ever really know -- unless the opponent fears it so much that something gives way, a tell, a shift, a check, that hesitation in action or decision or commitment, the self-doubt that cedes initiative. Cops learn to use it. (Or they used to, when they still walked a beat. Easier to stay unaware in the rolling patrol fortress).
In zanshin, awareness acts on the opponent even if he or she is so careful or skilled that nothing is EVER disclosed. It circles like the hawk dispassionately surveying a seemingly empty landscape, just waiting for some unseen prey to break cover. It circles the unknown point of the opponent's vulnerability and so the fear of exposure can pin them in place as surely as any arm bar.
Conversely, awareness teaches YOU how to act in any situation, waiting to act and acting -- not from planning, not from fear, not from desire or from anything else that you decided -- you just let your body -- like your awareness -- literally fall onto the rabbit whenever and wherever he decides to pop out.