Monday, October 26, 2015


‘Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration
on our usual everyday routine.’ Shunryū Suzuki.

‘Walk purposefully around the office!’

That was the directive given to my colleagues and me in a government department in which I was working as a lawyer. This happened over 35 years ago, but I remember the occasion as if it were yesterday. The directive came from the head lawyer, who was quite a whimsical fellow. We all thought he was a little odd, but I have since learned that we are all more than a little odd---each in our own way. Actually, the directive is a very sound one. Too many of us walk aimlessly, whether at work or elsewhere. We walk without a sense of purpose and without determination. 

I ask you this. How many times have you walked from one room of your house to another, and when you get to where you were headed you can’t remember why you wanted to go into that room? Even young people admit to me that this phenomenon happens to them from time to time. How many times do you drive your car from one suburb to the next and when you get to your destination you have no recollection of having driven along certain streets? It happens quite often, doesn’t it? Scary, isn’t it? We were not fully aware. We were not aware that we were at least at times aware. And we were not aware that we were at times unaware. In short, we were mindless instead of mindful.

I like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness:

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
On purpose,
in the present moment, and

There is a deliberateness and intentionality about mindfulness. It is something done ‘on purpose’---that is, with conscious awareness. It is anything other than living and acting aimlessly---that is, mindlessly.

Whatever you may be doing---eating, walking, speaking, reading, driving a car---do it with conscious awareness of the process of eating, walking, speaking, reading, driving, or whatever the activity may be. This requires that we consciously direct our attention and awareness to the doing of the activity in question. All too often, we make no conscious attempt to maintain our focus and attention on what we are doing. So, when our attention shifts---as it inevitably will from time to time---we make no conscious attempt to bring our attention back to the activity. Instead, we’re off on a mental movie of some sort in which we are the producer, director and star. 

Here's some good news---the regular and systematic practice of mindfulness as well as mindfulness meditation will strengthen your ability to maintain conscious awareness of the action of the present moment from one moment to the next. 

You can start right now. The next time you walk around the office, to the shops, or from one room of your house to another---walk purposefully, and not just purposely. Walking purposely simply means that you mean to walk, that is, you're doing it on purpose. Well, of course you are walking intentionally, otherwise you wouldn't be doing it at all---unless perhaps you're sleepwalking. But are you walking purposefully? Are you mindful of the regularity of the pace of your walking, the movement of your body, the straightness and balance of your spine, the position of your head, the weight of your arms as they swing by your side, the stretch of your stride, and the sensation of your feet pressing against the floor or earth and then rising again step after step?

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to take great, big strides or walk very quickly. It means to walk with regular, measured paces, being conscious of every step you take and ever-mindful of the purpose of your walking. It means being in control of what you’re doing. It means walking, and looking ahead, with ease, confidence, deliberateness and of course conscious awareness of the action of walking---one step after another---from one moment to the next. In other words, walking in a relaxed way while be-ing totally with the present moment.

‘What is the path? What is truth?’ asked the disciple. ‘Walk on!’ said the Zen master. Purposefully. 



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