Part of my Zen practice — perhaps the biggest and most important part — is simply paying attention.
It came as a shock to me when I first realized that I spend almost no time actually paying attention in my daily life. That distraction is my typical mode of operation — a state of constant, low-level engagement with life (self-induced or otherwise) — splitting my mental and physical faculties in multiple directions for the vast majority of my days. No wonder I’m so tired all the time!
To be fair, our world is constructed in a way that demands ‘multi-tasking’. We answer emails during meetings, text during dinner and surf the internet while we watch TV. We listen to our spouse while cooking dinner and organizing a drawer in the kitchen. We take our laptops on vacation, instagram on our hikes, and watch the news while we exercise. This behavior is compulsive, thoughtless and persistent.
I’m not advocating any kind of anti-technology sentiment. I love technology as much as the next girl (probably even more), but I do think technology has given us more options for distraction — and we, in desperate need to feel purposeful, productive and assuaged of our existential fears — immerse ourselves in those options.
All day. Every day.
Zen is a challenge to the modus operandi of the modern mind. Zen requires NO THING. Our job during practice is to simple be, alive and aware, in each moment. To truly live — even if only for a few seconds — in Reality. If we keep at it, those seconds may stretch out into minutes, even hours.
Paying attention can be done anywhere. You don’t need to go to a beautiful place (although it’s a treat when I do get to practice in nature). Heck, I was practicing this weekend when I was folding my towels. We’re not after some ‘high’ or brilliant insight or magical feeling. To the contrary. We just want to fully experience what is.
I guess the bottom line with this practice is that there will never be enough time. I could fill my life with a million and one sensual experiences, creative endeavors and intellectual pursuits.
But do I want to spend the rest of my life chasing an idea of what it means to be alive — or do I want to live?
Because if I want to live — then I need to be here. Now.