Zen in Action

In the last post “Mindfulness – Exactly What the Heck Is It? we arrived at the conclusion that mindfulness is Zen in action. The way we got there is by seeing that it’s in the stillness of meditation that we hone our powers of concentration and awareness, while in mindfulness we take it to the streets and apply that attention and awareness in our daily lives.

But how exactly do we do that? Let’s begin with a comparison of the definitions of meditation and mindfulness:

Meditation and mindfulness defined

At the end of the post, Meditation (The “M” word) we arrived at the following steps or process for meditating:

  1. Paying focused (one-pointed) attention to an object or anchor of attention (the feeling of our breath),
  2. while maintaining a compassionate and non-judgmental, spacious awareness of our thoughts and feelings (the compassionate observer in the field of awareness).
  3. Then, when distracted from the breath, describe the thought or feeling that took us away (Ah, there is restlessness), and gently return to the breath.

Similarly, at the end of  “Mindfulness – Exactly What the Heck Is It? we arrived at the following definition of mindfulness:

  1. Paying focused (one-pointed) attention to what we’re doing (or experiencing) in the present moment,
  2. while maintaining a compassionate and non-judgmental, spacious awareness of our thoughts and feelings (that’s technically the end of the definition but in practice we go to point 3),
  3. Then, when distracted from what we’re doing, describe the thought or feeling that took us away, and gently return to what we’re doing or experiencing.

It’s pretty obvious that there’s a substantial similarity between the practice of meditation and the practice of mindfulness. In fact, the only real difference is the anchor of attention. Whereas in meditation we focus on the breath (or whatever anchor works best for you), in mindfulness we focus on whatever we’re doing or experiencing in the present moment.

All else remains the same: the laser-like, one pointed attention; the compassionate and non-judgmental, spacious awareness; and when we get distracted, describing what took us away before gently returning to what we’re doing in the present moment.

And don’t overlook the concept of spacious awareness. It’s here that we create a distance between us (our awareness), and our thoughts and feelings so that we can observe them compassionately and non-judgmentally.

Remember the story of the raging bull in a small barn. Left in the barn he will deeply hurt himself and destroy the barn, but in an open field, he simply tires himself out. We are that small barn, and certainly our emotions at times can be raging bulls.

If you can picture your heart in an open field, you have the room to feel the full range of feelings you’re having, and observe them compassionately and non-judgmentally. We practice this first in meditation, then take that into our daily lives in mindfulness. It’s especially helpful if you find yourself getting enmeshed in a sticky negative emotion (more about detachment in the next post).

For now just remember that as you pay focused attention to what you’re doing, try your best to maintain the spacious awareness of your thoughts and feelings. That distance is a big step towards detachment from any storm clouds that may be brewing within.

And especially remember to be kind to yourself in any perceived shortcomings. Self-acceptance and self-compassion begin at home – with you. Once you can apply them inwardly, you will be able to apply them outwardly to others with much greater depth.

So, having seen how mindfulness is meditation in action, and remembering that ‘Zen’ means ‘meditation’ we see how mindfulness is Zen in action. You can also think of mindfulness as ‘moving meditation’.

But are there any practical benefits to living mindfully? Let’s take a look.

The present moment

One of the most beneficial aspects of mindfulness is that you’re actually living your life to the full because you’re working on being in the present moment. We saw in the post The Science Behind the “M” Word (Meditation) that according to a study out of Harvard University, people spend nearly half their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing.

What’s worse, is that when our minds wander, more often than not, it leads to unhappiness. That’s because the Default Mode Network of the brain gets triggered when we aren’t focused and that usually means ruminations about the past, or anxiety about the future.

By practicing mindfulness we practice staying focused in the present moment, and living our lives in the present moment. This actually shuts off the Default Mode Network and triggers the attention centers or our brains allowing us to be where we are, right here and right now – in the present moment.

And the present moment is the only moment we ever really have. The past is gone, and future is not here yet.

Our lives can only actually be fully lived in the here and now – in this very moment.

Any other benefits? You bet.

Relationships

You don’t have to be a relationship counsellor to know that the ability to focus and listen to your partner is a crucially important key to a successful relationship (and for keeping you out of trouble – ask any husband!). Meditation and mindfulness come in very handy because the better we get at honing our attention and awareness skills, the better we can focus on our partner (and come back when we drift off!).

That’s a huge step towards relationship success.

School or work

Whether you’re a student or out in the work force (or both), your ability to focus on the task at hand, become aware when you’ve drifted off to Fantasy Island, and come back to the task at hand is crucial to productivity and success.

It’s been my experience that people with average intelligence who can focus and work hard beat those with brilliance but lack of focus far more often than not.

Recap

So we’ve seen that it’s in the stillness of meditation that we learn to focus on an object or anchor of attention (typically the breath), and maintain a compassionate and non-judgmental, spacious awareness of our thoughts and feelings so that when we drift off, we gently return to the anchor of attention.

And we’ve seen that mindfulness entails the exact same practice, only this time in our daily lives where we focus on what we’re doing or experiencing, while maintaining a compassionate and non-judgmental, spacious awareness of our thoughts and feeling so that we we drift off, we gently return to what we’re doing or experiencing.

Hence, mindfulness is Zen in action.

But what if while we’re meditating or practicing mindfulness we get caught up in an unpleasant thought or feeling? In Zen parlance, what if we get attached?

Stay tuned – that’s the subject of the next post.

That’s it for now. Thanks for stopping by and see you soon.

 

 

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11 thoughts on “Zen in Action

  1. Great comparison! I have been trying to explain to people what MBSR is and how beneficial it is. However, like most things it is not until you start trying it and practising the techniques do you experience how extremely beneficial mindfulness is. Yes there is meditation involved but as you pointed out it is ‘active’. It is being present, in the moment from washing the dishes to living you life. I reblog your post, hope that is ok, thank you for sharing your insight.

    Liked by 1 person

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