Keep it simple
Frequently our minds tend to complicate things. The mind thrives creating elaborate systems of thought composed of nicely packaged concepts and ideas. This is not a bad thing; in many cases those complex systems built by the mind are quite useful. However, very often the complexity of those systems obscures what is otherwise simple and clear.
The documentary film How to Cook Your Life follows zen chef Edward Espe Brown as he guides zen practitioners in exploring the connections between cooking, zen practice and life. Among other clear and powerful messages in the movie, there was one that I enjoyed because of its utter simplicity. Espe Brown says something like: “do what you are doing; if you are chopping carrots, chop carrots, if you are kneading dough, knead the dough.” It sounds like a message that is too simple. Yet its simplicity is imbued with deep wisdom. This succinct message highlights the importance of mindful action, paying attention to what we are doing.
Doing things for real
When we are fully present, doing what we are doing, we participate and we engage in all actions for real, wholeheartedly. Consequently, all of our attention is focused on the tasks at hand. That is, we become one with the activity in which we are participating. This alignment results in mindful and meaningful actions. Our actions are instrumental to learning and, thus, mindful actions result in deeper knowledge which, in turn, enables us to continue learning and growing. Moreover, our complete participation also prepares us for future actions and circumstances, including learning to accept the outcomes, positive or negative, of our actions.
It seems quite simple to just do what we are doing. However, why is it that many of us find it difficult to accomplish this? The distractions in our daily activities seem endless. They emerge in varied shapes and guises, and what they have in common is that they manage to take our attention away from what we are doing. When we follow the source of distraction the quality of our participation diminishes and the outcome of our actions is affected.
Improving the quality of our attention
In Yoga is a practice we talked about Yoga practice as a laboratory where external sources of distraction are reduced, therefore, making it easier for us to focus and sustain our attention.
Here is a suggestion to “do what we are doing” when we are practicing Yoga.
- Let go
- For the first couple of minutes of your practice, allow anything that is not part of your practice to drift away with each exhalation.
- Set your intention
- Repeat to yourself with full attention and feeling: “I will focus my undivided attention on this practice, here and now”.
- Engage your attention
- Give your mind a simple task to do in order to keep it from getting distracted. For instance, ask your mind to observe the sensations at the points of contact between your body and the ground with each exhalation, or notice, to the best of your ability, what happens during the transition between each inhalation and each exhalation.
- Practice according to your intention with engaged attention, and whenever your attention gets distracted, gently bring back your attention, inhale, smile and continue practicing.
Notice that these suggestions might be useful to focus while doing activities other than Yoga.
As usual, try these suggestions a few times and notice if they have any influence on the quality of your participation and on the overall quality of your practice. As you practice this way you strengthen your ability to concentrate on and off your Yoga mat.
Simple guided meditation with Rubén