zen and mindfulness: repetition


This is the eleventh in a series of topics from the seminal book on Zen: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. I’m going chapter by chapter and offering my thoughts on the subject Suzuki addresses. You should definitely check out Suzuki’s book. It has changed many lives.

When we meditate, we try to focus our mind on something relatively minute or concentrated, at least at first. Often this is an simple as counting our breaths, or feeling the sensation of our breathing. This can be very profound if done consistently. Yet we are always struggling, even at this seemingly simple thing, for a long time. To lose focus on something so simple should be discouraging.

Yet we insist on multitasking constantly throughout the day. For work, maybe you say this is inevitable. Maybe you would fall behind if you were not multitasking. In fact this is likely true.

You need to do multiple things in quick succession throughout the day. If you do not perform those tasks, people who are counting on you, whether they be customers or co-workers, will be disappointed or hurt by your failure to finish these tasks. This reality of work is unavoidable in many jobs.

Yet, whenever you are doing a task, you are thinking about other tasks, and this is not necessary. You are never sincerely, 100% doing anything! Even if your job is as simple as being a line cook chopping vegetables, you should focus and feel every cut.

You could space out and do a sloppier job and in all likelihood nobody would be hurt or care, but that’s not the point. You should do it because that is experiencing life.  If your work is something where you send many emails every day, focus on that email and nothing but that email. Feel your fingers hit the keys. When it’s ready to be sent, send it off, then start thinking about your next task. Don’t prepare yourself to do your next task before you are done with the first task. That’s all.

You may say, again, this is not hurting anyone. That’s not the point. When you constantly practice mindfulness, you experience more in life because you are paying more attention and actually present for more of it. If you watch a show and zone out for parts, did you really watch the show even though you were sitting there in front of the screen the whole time? No. Be fully present.

This might not be so important to you for work. Maybe you don’t care as much about work as you do about your family. I think this is healthy. You should want to squeeze every instant out of your time with your family. But if you aren’t practicing mindfulness in your day to day, you won’t be able to do that. Your mind will be too used to being divided. It won’t shut down other aspects of itself, like work.

Mindfulness requires constant renewal. This is the most important aspect of mindfulness practice. If your mind is used to being scattered, it will keep being scattered. The walls we live within will trap us.

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