The Lost Years
At times, it feels as though I’ve lived my life based on inspirational quotes. All those juicy metaphysical pearls of zen wisdom strewn and strafed across the internet’s fertile landscape.
I do possess, at the very least, a somewhat cursory awareness of Taoist and Buddhist philosophies. Most of it acquired rather inauspiciously during a very chaotic and questionable period in my life. The Lost Years of the seventies were spent wastefully hanging around the wrong people on the wrong streets doing the wrong things.
I was on a slippery slope back in my late teens. The details of which are neither here nor there. Suffice it to say I wound up adrift in a very unforgiving place. That’s when and where I discovered that rock bottom indeed has a basement.
But I digress, for it was those same streets that gave birth to my fascination with philosophy. Desperation can be one hell of a motivator.
Not the Plato or Socrates style of philosophy mind you, the forebearers of western thought. No, instead, I was drawn more to the arcane ancient esoteric writings of The Vedas, Sutras, and Tao te Ching. Unlike the Judeo Christian message that so many of my peers grew up listening to, these venerable scribes resonated with me on a much deeper soul level.
I was soon to discover that the wrong people were, in fact, the right people. You see, every person you encounter in life can be your guru if you are open to such. And these misjudged misunderstood masters of the street taught me some very precious life lessons indeed.
Amen For Zen
Jump ahead several decades, and I am still to be found wading knee-deep in the muddied waters of life’s mysteries. Some abiding and self-evident while others still, unraveling layer upon layer so gradually as to be almost imperceptible. Waiting as it were for the young student’s mind to be openly able to receive.
Truths that are at times empirical but more often than not observational. Though notwithstanding, always and forever present, enduring and powerful.
One such self-revealing truth seeped up through my cranial crevices sometime back during my regular morning tai chi practice. It truly was a eureka moment. A monumental shift that can skyrocket anyone’s personal productivity, as it has mine.
Mastering Your Mind
Tell me if this sounds at all familiar. You begin your day off invigorated and renewed, determined to get that laundry list of tasks completed. And so you jump right in and grab task “A” by the horns with the very best of intention. That is of course until your mind decides to act as a personal saboteur.
Either visually or mentally you quickly become distracted by Task “B”. You decide it best to just get it out of the way, fully intending to return to Task “A” forthwith. But soon enough, the pattern repeats as once more you abandon Task “A” scurrying off to address Task “C”.
If and when you do finally return to task “A” you’re so mentally and physically exhausted either you complete it haphazardly or not at all. This sporadic piecemeal approach results in you never giving a single task the full attention it deserves. And though seemingly busy all day you soon retire for the evening demoralized, disillusioned and feeling like you’ve accomplished very little or worse yet, nothing at all.
Akin to the game golf, the solution is easy to understand yet difficult to master. As the Chinese proverb states, “Where your mind goes, your energy follows.” The key lies in learning how to direct your thoughts rather than having your thoughts direct you. In other words, ‘Be Master of Mind not Mastered by Mind.”
Living in The Now
Often, you will read or hear about “living in the now.” It’s a straightforward concept that most people comprehend at least on an intellectual level. You can’t deny it’s honesty. The Now, this very moment, is all there truly is. The past is the past, and the future is merely potential. Now is the one time, the only time you can exercise some control over and direct to a degree.
Sure, it’s a wonderful platitude this Now concept but how do you actually achieve it? How do you find that sweet spot where you are totally in the pocket? Well, to be frank, it’s not easy. It takes time and effort on your part, but the rewards are immeasurable.
The Practical Practice
Let’s be straight up. You are going to be continuously distracted every minute of every day. Just accept that that is the reality of life in the 21st Century. The secret to remaining focused is not to give those distractions any undue attention. As respected Soto Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki stated, “Allow your thoughts to come and go. Just don’t serve them tea.”
Utilizing your Five Senses is the quickest and easiest way to bring yourself back into the Now. The easiest of these, the olfactory, involves merely breathing. When you notice you’re feeling mentally distracted simply stop and take several deep breathes.
The simple act of breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth forces your mind to redirect it’s attention back to your body. Feel and sense the motion of your chest rising and falling with each breath.
You can deepen this focus by counting to four on the inhale and six on the out. And even deeper still by giving attention to any smells you may detect in the air in and around you.
This simple act of shifting focus from your mind to your body will inherently bring you back to The Now. It’s unavoidable.
So what about that eureka moment I spoke of earlier? Well. it’s elementary yet complex.
“Nature Does Not Hurry Yet Everything is Accomplished.”
Initially, I only understood this in it’s logical sense. Nature get it’s stuff done.
But on that cool crisp morning the more subtle sublime wisdom of the message struck me like a punch between the eyes. Nature accomplishes EVERYTHING. Not through some hither tither diffused ineffectual approach but rather by remaining entirely and utterly focused on the present moment, The Now.
When Eating, Eat. When Walking, Walk
By instilling this new habit of continually returning your mental focus to The Now you’ll remain on task more consistently. Like any new practice, it won’t be easy at first. Afterall, Jack Nicklaus didn’t win the very first golf tournament he played in. But with continued effort and self-discipline, you will soon find yourself accomplishing a lot more with a lot less stress and effort.