“When you bow, you should just bow; when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat.” – Shunryu Suzuki
This quote relates to being present. Being present means you think about what you do and focus on that and that only. Before I began to attempt this, I had no idea how many details I was missing. Our minds have a way of doing this to us all of the time. It automates, because that is the most efficient way for the brain to operate. This automaticity, however, is also the brain’s weakness.
Being present means we do one thing, focusing all of our attention on that one thing. It is hard to explain the beauty of living this way. Recently, I began tracking my activities for the day. I start a timer and focus on one task. This focus allows you to realize a ton of things you may have missed if you fail to focus like this.
Here I am working on a blog posting. I focus on the words. I focus on the pressure my fingers feel each time they depress a button on my laptop’s keyboard. I say the words to myself as I type. My mind will wander at times, but I bring it right back to the task at hand. Truly focusing on one thing at a time is not easy. The mind is so scattered. One thing I have discovered over time while I practice this new way of thinking, is how much more focused I have become by practicing every day.
This is the crux of Zen Buddhism. It is not a religion. It is a meditation practice. The Zen Buddhists call this zazen or sitting. When a Zen Buddhist meditates, he sits. He does nothing but sit and focus on the breath. Over time, the mind will settle down. You transcend the mind and its thoughts. The mind, when it is ignored long enough, will fade away, just like your body will fade. The focus that arises from sitting is so pinpointed, everything beyond what is focused on disappears.
Think about the beauty of this. If the mind and body fades away, what is left? You got it–the real you! That is what is left. This level of focus is far above what you and I would consider focus. This focus, derived from sitting (zazen), will transfer to other aspects of your life. It transfers to your work, your writing, your eating, and your bathing. The focus becomes easier to attain as well.
The focus is the primary benefit. This focus, particularly when you are concentrating on a singular task, allows one to enjoy this state throughout the day. Imagine a day like this. A day without worry about the future, dread about the past, stressing over a mistake, or worrying about how long you have been doing something. This is a state called flow. You become so focused and engrossed with a task, time falls away, everything falls away but you and the task you are working on.
Imagine how wonderful eating would be if you could enjoy the texture, the smell, the feel, the sight, and taste of what you are eating. Imagine being so focused on your meal that everything outside that meal faded away.
Meditation, contemplation, or prayer all require focus. Focus comes with practice. Here is a simple meditation you can try. Sit in a comfortable chair with your back straight. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Then let the breath return to its normal pace and depth. Concentrate on the breath coming in and going out. Initially, you’ll want to count the breath as it comes in and goes out. One–breathe in. Two–breathe out. Three–breathe in. Four–breathe out. Do this to 10 and start over. If you lose track of your counting when you daydream or get engaged with a rising thought, start over again. You’ll find that the mind will be restless and continue to give you things to think about. Don’t fret over this. Simply return to your breath and begin counting again.
This is Zazen or sitting. It has been practiced for thousands of years. Zazen can be practiced when sitting, working on a single task, eating, or even gardening. You remain focused on the moment, by experiencing everything as it occurs. Try this out. You’ll be amazed how pleasant mundane tasks become. You’ll also begin to appreciate the calm, wonder, and flow that arises when you improve your focus.
I hope you have a terrific Saturday! My sister is coming over today to celebrate her birthday and hang out with us. We are looking forward to it.
Until next time…