EXERCISE 15: The Practice – 4: Mindfulness:
We are always so busy, we have little time to pay attention. Our Buddhist brothers and sisters have been practising ‘mindfulness’ for millennia! It’s the most important tool you can have on your God-quest. It’s also the most difficult for most of us busy Westerners to learn. We have to unlearn everything we have been taught by the media: sound-bites and multi-tasking. There’s an old Zen saying that captures what we have to unlearn and learn: ‘Don’t just do something: stand there!’
So try these Exercises:
- For one lunch-time, chew each bite for a full minute, savouring it, feeling how your tongue moves, how your teeth come together in the act of chewing. Don’t think of anything else but what you’re doing right now: chewing.
- Try walking so slowly that you can feel every single different muscle and bone move.
- Try doing nothing but concentrate on your breathing for five minutes. Don’t let your mind wander.
- Try looking at a painting and really seeing it.
- Do the dishes and think of nothing but exactly what you are doing: picking up this plate (feel the warm, wet porcelain surface…); picking up the sponge (heavy with warm, soapy water…); wiping the plate with the sponge (the movement of your elbow, wrist…), etc.
These are all about slowing down and paying attention. These are absolutely essential skills for the God-quest. We are looking for clues to the Divine, and they are subtle! (Oh, and by the way, when you do these exercises, remember to turn off iPods, mp3 players, TV sets… You get the picture: this is about attention and this kind of attention requires silence. We need to pay attention. We need to be mindful.)