Mindfulness is THE buzzword in self-improvement and New Age circles, but what does it really mean? If we go back to basics, we find that it is rooted in Buddhism, and can be easily explained in two simple phrases.
Chop wood. Carry water.
This is actually a pared down version of a slightly longer Zen story, wherein an enlightened monk recalls his process to enlightenment. He stated “When I was unenlightened, I chopped wood and carried water. When I became enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water.”
A lot of the time it can feel like we’re carrying wood and chopping water – not really getting anywhere, flailing around with a dripping axe. But when we stop, focus and concentrate, usually things become smoother, get done quicker and with little drama. Some may not want that – they enjoy the distraction that the flailing causes, or the drama, but after a while it can wear thin. Applying mindfulness, which is simply paying attention, can help alleviate any dis-ease that we may feel in our lives. That’s not to say that we’ll feel great all the time, but just by being in the present moment and not attaching to past experiences, dwelling on them or getting stuck in an emotion we can just get on with plain living.
So, with all that in mind, I’ve decided to dedicate an entire day to mindfulness each week. Ideally, I try to be mindful all the time, but I’m no Buddha. Having an entire day to focus on this will hopefully trickle down into the rest of the week, and all my thoughts, actions and their consequences. I’ve deemed this my Mindful Mondays.
So, what does this all mean? It means that when I’m eating breakfast, I’m just eating breakfast – not reading a book or article. When I’m washing the dishes, I’m just washing the dishes and not singing along to the latest Taylor Swift album. When I’m out walking, I am walking mindfully, at whatever speed, paying attention to my steps and my surroundings – not planning my evening meal. When I’m stroking my cat, I’m not thinking about writing the next chapter of my book. When I’m driving I’m really feeling the road beneath me, not dwelling on the driver that decided to overtake me on a blind summit. When I’m out for a meal with friends, I’m really paying attention to what they are saying, and not already forming a reply to their words before they’ve even finished talking.
Mindful Mondays are all about paying attention.
With that centred awareness, with that focus, we can simplify our lives immensely (part of my New Year’s resolution). People often fear that we will be less productive, but actually we will do jobs better, more efficiently, if we maintain that focus.
Being aware of your movements as well is doing a great kindness to your body. When we are walking down the stairs, we are focusing on our body moving. We will find that our movements may become less hurried and more graceful. A calm descends on our way of being. Like a leaf falling from the tree, we simply are in that moment, either floating down serenely or caught in a whirlwhind – either way it is done with grace.
So, like the monk who realised that life doesn’t change after enlightenment and that you still have to do the things you have to do, what you can change is how you do them. Mindfully, with awareness, focus and concentration. Give it a try, and let me know how you get on! Even if a day is too much, try an hour or half an hour each day. You don’t have to change your schedule, just do everything in it mindfully.
May you be peace as you chop wood and carry water.