The Lost Years
At times, it feels as though I’ve lived a 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 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 philosophy mind you, the forebearers of western thought. No, I precious to the arcane ancient esoteric writings of The Vedas, Sutras, and Tao te Ching. Unlike the Judeo Christian message, so many peers grew up listening to, these scribes resonated with me on a much deeper level.
I was later to discover that the wrong people, were, in fact, the right people. Every person you encounter in life can be your guru if you are open to allowing such. And these misjudged misunderstood educators 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 gradual 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 always and forever everpresent, enduring and powerful.
One such self-revealing truth seeped up through my cranial crevices sometime back during a regular morning tai chi practice. It truly was a eureka moment. A mental 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 envigored 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 best of intentions. 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 Task C.
If and when you do return to task A you are so mentally and physically exhausted you either 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 busy all day you retire for the evening demoralized, feeling you’ve accomplished very little or worse yet, nothing at all.
Like golf, the solution is easy to understand yet difficult to master. It’s all about FOCUS. As the old Chinese proverb states, “Where your mind goes, your energy follows.” The key is learning how to direct your thoughts rather than your thoughts directing 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 moment, is the only time you indeed have. The past is the past, and the future is merely potential. Now is the one time, the only time, that you can control and direct in some manner.
Sure, it’s a wonderful platitude this Now thing 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’s going to take time and effort on your part, but the rewards will be immeasurable.
The Practical Practice
Let’s be straight up. You are going to be continuously distracted every single minute of every single day. Just accept that that is the reality of life in the 21st Century. The key 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 easiest way to bring yourself back into The Now. The simplest of which is breathing. When begin to feel distracted by thought, stop and take several deep breathes.
Following the method of breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth forces your mind to redirect it’s attention back to your body. Next, focus on any smells you detect in the air. Then, feel and sense the motion of your chest rising and falling with each breath.
Shifting the 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?
“Nature Does Not Hurry Yet Everything is Accomplished.”
Oh sure, I understood in the logical sense. Nature get it’s stuff done. But that one cool crisp morning it’s more subtle sublime message struck me between the eyes. Nature accomplishes EVERYTHING. Not through some hither tither diffused ineffectual approach but rather by remaining utterly and entirely 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 more readily remain on task. Like any new practice, it won’t be easy at first. Jack Nicklaus didn’t win the first golf tournament he played in after all. But with continued effort and self-discipline, you will soon find yourself accomplishing a lot more with less stress and effort.