“Wherever you go, there you are.”
Dispatch from a journey(to Bali) not taken(by me):
An elderly Zen master was ill and nearing death. One of his disciples remembered that he was fond of a certain kind of cake and searched for hours in the pastry shops of Tokyo to find one. When finally he did, he returned and offered it to the master, who accepted it. Even as he began to eat, the master became visibly weaker. His disciples asked if he had any final words for them.
“Yes,” whispered the master and they eagerly leaned over him to hear his words of wisdom. “Please tell us!” they begged.
“My, this cake is delicious!” said the master. And then, he died.
The Zen master was better than I am at getting the most out of every moment. We hear a lot about “mindfulness” these days. Centuries after Buddha taught it, mindfulness is having its moment. There seems to be an entire mindfulness wing within the self-help industry. Nothing wrong with that. I agree that we should try to be mindful, though I also think there is a place for a little daydreaming now and then. Mindfulness is really just a matter of paying attention to what is going on, which has a lot of practical benefits, and some that go beyond practicality. If you aren’t occasionally awestruck by what you observe in the world around you, then you really aren’t paying close enough attention .
Mindfulness is not the same as meditation, although is it is often employed in meditative practice. There are various definitions of mindfulness, but the most workable one is “the nonjudgemental awareness of the present moment.” It is not an emptying of the mind but the opposite, with an emphasis on full awareness.
If you are being mindful, you don’t stop thinking, you just relate to your thoughts in a different way. Mindfulness is not happy thinking, where you dwell on the positive, but instead it assigns no value judgement at all to one’s thoughts, accepting them like any other event that happens to occur in our presence, allowing them to drift in and then out again, like clouds in the sky or soap bubbles. Thoughts are to be considered inconsequential, just moment-to-moment products of a constantly changing environment, and in them you should not allow yourself to become lost or upset.
To be mindful is to be attuned to the flux of external sensation and simultaneously attentive to the contents of your own mind. It is to pause, reflect, and gain perspective, and to be humbled by placing the self in its proper, small place in the vast cosmos.
I am absent-minded by nature. I can get lost in my thought-stream when my mind should be on what is right here, right now. Our family has a running joke about how, when fixing a meal, I always burn the bread, because I put it in the oven and then immediately get distracted doing something else. When Caroline and I take a walk in Kathmandu-which is akin to taking a stroll down the middle of the track at Daytona on race day-she keeps her eyes on the motor vehicles, as I look down to read something or write on a notepad. I watch where I am going about as closely as I would if I had a sack over my head. It’s like I turn it over to autopilot, but autopilot doesn’t pick up, so no one is driving. I’m like a mechanical Jeff – wind me up, point me down the sidewalk, and turn me loose, hoping everybody else will get out of the way. This makes Caroline crazy, and she thinks it’s just a matter of time until I cause a Nepali traffic incident. One time, I looked up long enough to see a man walking a goat on a leash. I thought it was funny and pointed it out to Caroline, but her only response was, “I’m going to put YOU on a leash.”
Zen Buddhists teach that walking, like everything, should be done mindfully. When practicing “walking medication” the instruction is to concentrate on nothing else but putting one foot in front of the other. If they ever make a teaching video they could show me walking and in the voice-over say, “See this guy? Do the opposite of him.”
Full awareness is like how you would be if you knew that somewhere in the room there was a snake on the loose, or like a young mother who can be talking on the phone and cooking a meal but still hear her infant’s every sound.