Ikkyu, Zen Master*
How much of the
time are we really awake? Most of us are so good at dealing with our
daily tasks that we go on autopilot. We put on our clothes, eat
breakfast and drive to work without really paying attention. We don’t
need to pay attention, because we know how to do these tasks.
Sometimes we are not paying
attention because we are distracted. When faced with a situation where
autopilot mode won’t do, we go into problem solving or pseudo-problem
solving, also known as worry. We run the scenario through our heads
with possible solutions and various outcomes. Our attention is inward,
but directed at the problem and not at our experience. We lose
ourselves in thought and anxious emotion.
We also take ourselves out
of awareness of the present moment by rerunning old memories. Or we
might lose ourselves in fantasy. We dream up alternate life scripts—the
ones where we have more than enough money, the perfect mate, the cool
car, and the better job.
With TV we don’t have to
think at all. With the push of a button we can give over our
consciousness to an industry that has the purpose of hypnotizing us
into buying things from advertisers.
Sometimes though, if we are
lucky, we might have a moment when we are fully awake and alive. We are
conscious of our experience. We know where we are and what we are
doing. We experience our senses. We are in a particular place and a
particular moment, and the moment has a wholeness to it that seems
quite different from the dull, monotonous or anxious moments that fill
most of our lives.
We could be so much more
alive if we could foster the process of being awake. Typically, this is
what mystics are about. They may frame it in terms of a particular
religious tradition, but the classic mystical experience is all about
waking up. We don’t have to go off to meditate in a cave or pray in a
monastery to wake up more. We can use the world of our daily lives as
the ground of our awakening. What might this look like?
Deeper, slower breathing induces relaxation. When we are relaxed we can
be more responsive. Relaxed doesn’t just mean limp. Relaxed muscles can
be strong, but they are not tense. When you notice that you are tense,
remember to breathe more deeply and slowly.
Meditation is practice for waking up. We call ourselves to attention,
lose the attention, and call ourselves back to it.
in motion: Living mindfully, we resolve to remember to be aware. We
do what we do with the intention of noticing that we are doing it,
where we are, what we sense, what our inner experience is. We practice
mindfulness so that it becomes habit. Habit means we don’t have to
think about it so much. Through repetitive coming back to the immediate
moment, we become accustomed to doing so. We no longer have to put so
much energy into remembering to be aware. We just are aware one moment
Flow: Develop some
skill that can take you to moments of complete involvement. It could be
art, dance, sport, work with your hands, a spiritual practice or
religious ritual. Give yourself to it so that you are fully engaged in
the process. As you become involved and your ego gets out of the way,
you may notice that you are alive in action.
No contest: Being
awake is not a contest. It doesn’t matter if you are more or less
awakened than someone else. When you start evaluating your mindfulness
or your meditation practice in critical terms, you are not being fully
present. Accept your moments of awareness and your moments of dullness.
Accept happy as well as sad. Trying and judging are where you start.
Doing, being, and accepting are where you may end up.
* Zen Teacher Philip Kapleau tells this story in The Three Pillars
One day a man of
the people said to the Zen master Ikkyu: “Master,will you please write for
me some maxims of the highest wisdom?”
Ikkyu immediately took his brush and wrote the word “Attention.”
“Is that all?”
asked the man. “Will you not add something more?”
Ikkyu then wrote
twice running: “Attention. Attention.”
the man rather irritably, “I really don’t see much depth or
subtlety in what you have just written.”
Then Ikkyu wrote
the same word three times running: “Attention. Attention. Attention.”
Half angered, the
man declared: “What does that word attention mean anyway?”
And Ikkyu answered,
gently: “Attention means attention.”
© 2005 Tom Barrett