Thursday, June 3, 2010

Every-Minute Meditation

I recently spent a day at a book publishing convention, and at the Wisdom Publications booth I picked up an advanced reader’s copy of Lin Jensen’s new book, Deep Down Things: The Earth in Celebration and Dismay. It will be published in October 2010, so this amounts to a sneak preview.

Deep Down Things

After the convention, I boarded a crowded M34 bus and began making my way, with it, across town in rush hour traffic. This seemed like a fine time to browse through all the catalogs and book galleys I’d picked up. I turned through this book and was stopped by one page.

Reverend Dazui, a monk of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, encouraged the Buddhist practice of mindfulness as an antidote for a life frittered away by detail. Mindfulness as he taught it as essentially a matter of simplification. He called it “every-minute meditation” and it consisted of five steps, four of which I’ve repeated here:

1. Do one thing at a time.
2. Pay attention to what you are doing.
3. When your mind wanders to something else bring it back.
4. Repeat step number three a few hundred thousand times.

“That’s all there is to it,” Reverend Dazui explained. “It’s incredibly simple and requires nothing more than the willingness to do it.”

I think that Thich Nhat Hanh would agree with these four steps. I’m not sure Thầy would characterize the process as “incredibly simple.” For Thầy, the commentary might be, “Just this. Simple, but not easy. That is why we must practice.”

Lin Jensen continues,

The willingness to do it grows with the doing, because, until you’ve tried to simplify your life in this way, you can’t really know how joyful it is to live in the present moment without the distraction of alternatives. Simplicity, as I am speaking of it here, is synonymous with clarity. If I do one thing at a time, my life will be clear and present.

Sitting on that bus, I found myself responding as if the idea of present-moment mindfulness were completely new to me. My inner response was, “But I don’t want to think about or do only one thing at a time! I like living all the alternatives at once! No other way could possibly be interesting enough to my very clever self!” This was my urban professional multi-tasking mind operating in high gear. (And no wonder, having just left a convention floor swarming with urban professional multi-tasking minds.) In that mode, I need to be persuaded that simplifying really will bring more joy and satisfaction. And I spend more time in that mode than I’d like to admit.

I realized I need to spend more time in meditation, more hours in mindfulness, even as I pull up morning glory sprouts in the garden or cut up onions and carrots in the kitchen. Sitting on that crowded, noisy, stop-and-go bus, I vowed to do it.

Back to Lin Jensen (in the same paragraph – it is a long, rich paragraph):

Simplicity, as I am speaking of it here, is synonymous with clarity. If I do one thing at a time, my life will be clear and present. … The old Chinese masters sometimes distinguished between the enlightened and the unenlightened by saying that one who is enlightened sits when he sits, stands when he stands, walks when he walks, eats when he eats, and sleeps when he sleeps. In an important way, enlightenment is simply being present in whatever one happens to be doing at the moment.

Right now, then, I am practicing being present to my thinking, present to my memories of the M34 bus, present to my typing, present to my sitting, present to noting the tension in my shoulders, arms, and hands from typing, present to my mind weighing different ways of wording what I am typing, present to my efforts to touch what it is that I wanted to say, what brought me to the keyboard in the first place. And present to what I had no idea I would say.

I was curious about what Reverend Dazui’s fifth step was. At the website of an Order of Buddhist Contemplatives practice center, I found the five steps expressed this way:

1. Do one thing at a time.
2. Pay full attention to what you are doing.
3. When your mind wanders to something else, bring it back.
4. Repeat step number three a few hundred thousand times.
5. And, when your mind keeps wandering to the same thing over and over, stop for a minute and pay attention to the "distraction": maybe it is trying to tell you something.

Practicing with distraction – that requires a whole n’other post – or maybe a few hundred thousand posts.

From Wisdom Publications:

Lin Jensen 2LIN JENSEN is the critically acclaimed author of the memoir Bad Dog! A Memoir of Love, Beauty, and Redemption in Dark Places and Pavement: Reflections on Mercy, Activism, and Doing "Nothing" for Peace, a fearless and funny account of curbside social action. He is also the author of Together Under One Roof: Making a Home of the Buddha’s Household. … He is the founding teacher and senior teacher emeritus of the Chico Zen Sangha, in Chico, California, where he lives with his wife.

Rev. Master Daizui MacPhillamy

1945 - 2003

Rev Master Daizui MacPhillamy

He was the Head of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, and also acted as Prior of a small mountain temple, the Fugen Forest Hermitage, in northwestern California.

“The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives is dedicated to the practice of the Serene Reflection Meditation tradition, known as Ts'ao-Tung Ch'an in China and Sōtō Zen in Japan. … The practice of the Order emphasizes serene reflection meditation, mindfulness in daily life, and adherence to the Buddhist Precepts.”

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