“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.”
How many of you read the above quote and went “What?” Some of you would have even thought “What an obvious thing to say!” Or you might think it’s such a silly thing to share. But, I say, read it once again. And, once again. Till you understand what it really means. And, also think of the last time you really just “did something and only that something”. Before, you start getting annoyed with my convoluted sayings, let me get to the point.
Focusing on the present
When was the last time you ate your food and concentrated on just eating your food. You didn’t watch TV, you didn’t have the laptop on, you weren’t talking to someone on the phone, and you weren’t thinking about your next office deliverable. When was the last time you looked out of your car window and really saw the surroundings, and weren’t pre-occupied with other thoughts.
How many of you are reading this article, and already thinking about something else?
All of us are great at multi-tasking and completing tasks in nano-seconds. What we’re unfortunately not so good at is sitting down, calming our minds and focusing on one thing at a time. To get back to the quote above, we should ideally just be thinking about peeling potatoes when we’re peeling it. Most often we don’t. We peel potatoes and think of other pending tasks. Though the saying is so obvious, it’s obviously not so easy to implement it in our daily lives.
Focus on your surroundings
When we don’t focus on what we’re doing at the moment, the moment slips away, and it never returns. Most of us are guilty of this in small doses. Think of the person who forgets that the milk is boiling and lets it spill each time (I’m guilty of this). Think of the person who leaves the iron on only to realize it once he or she is in office. Think of the person who is on the phone and doing something else – not doing justice to the task at hand or to the person at the other end of the phone.
It’s not just about focusing on the task at hand, it’s also about focusing on the present and the surroundings. It’s about being more aware of what’s going on around you. When you start concentrating on the food you eat, you’ll start becoming a lot more aware of your habits. If you have a tendency to put on weight, stop eating your food in a rush. If you really think about it and concentrate on your food, do you think you’ll be able to finish off 2-3 doughnuts in one sitting. Junk food becomes pretty difficult to eat if you really concentrate on it. It’s something which you tend to eat when you’re occupied with other things.
All of the above brings me to an important concept. Mindfulness. I’m sure you would have all heard of it – it’s one of the “fancy” words of our generation. Our generation easily gets obsessed with concepts which they find difficult to follow. What does mindfulness really mean?
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.
“It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour,” he says.
Mindfulness has many health benefits as well. We suffer from stress, depression, panic attacks, anxiety and a whole lot of other issues. A lot of this can be changed by changing our perspective and being mindful.
How can we practice mindfulness?
As is the case with everything else, even in the case of mindfulness, “Practice makes perfect”. So let’s start with the following simple steps:
- When you walk on the road, look around and observe your surroundings. Notice the people around you, see what’s happening in your city, and become more aware.
- Meditate! Now, if I must be truthful, I find it really difficult to meditate. If it’s the same case for you, try and just sit in a place in silence for some time. If it’s a real struggle, you’ll understand how much you need mindfulness in your life.
- Stop trying to multi-task all the time. Maybe multi-tasking is necessary sometimes, but I’ve found that concentrating on one task always makes it easier to complete it. If I try to juggle between ten things,all ten tasks take longer than it should.
- Stop thinking all the time. This can become a major hindrance to your sleep as well. Often, an over-active brain is a major cause of insomnia. Just think of nothing sometimes.
- Stop dwelling too much on the past or the future. Remember, it’s the present that matters the most. The past has passed, and the future is yet to come.
Now, go and have dinner today without putting the TV on!