I just joined the one year training program at San Francisco Zen Center. Part of our homework for this week, is to pay attention to the way we dress, and undress every day. Which item do we put on first? which one goes last? what is the order? What are the thoughts, emotions, sensations associated with each action?
The first morning, I was half-way through breakfast when I remembered the assignment, too late. Same thing happened at night. The second day was a little better. I caught myself midstream, as I was stepping my left foot into my pair of black leggings. Such absent-mindedness begged for further examination. Why was it so hard for me to remember? How many other times during the day, did I forget to be present? How much of my life was spent in oblivion?
Looking back on that first morning when I got dressed without paying attention, I found hurry to be the big culprit. I had gotten up too late, and needed to rush to get to my appointment. My mind was lost in the future, already anticipating what lunch to pack, which freeway to take, where to park, and what would happen once I got to my destination. Part of me was trying to 'make the best use of time', as in double tasking, and planning while getting dressed.
Of course, mindfulness had the last laugh . . . I got into my car, and as I looked down, noticed that I was still wearing my slippers!
A small price to pay in the form of five minutes lost, going back into the house and putting on the right shoes. This is not always the case however, and many unfortunate accidents could be prevented if we slowed down enough, and paid attention.
This reminds me of Sharon Salzberg's shoe story:
Sayadaw U Pandita came to Barre to teach a three-month retreat when I first met him. As a student, I diligently wrote down brief notes after each period of sitting and walking meditation. I wanted to describe my experiences clearly in our interviews. When I began relating my experiences, U Pandita said, "Never mind that. Tell me everything you noticed when you put on your shoes." I hadn't really paid attention to putting on my shoes. He told me to try again. That was the end of the interview.
The next day I went into my interview ready to report on sitting meditation, walking meditation and my experience while putting on my shoes. U Pandita said, "Tell me everything you noticed when you washed your face." I hadn't really paid any attention to washing my face. My interview was over.
Every day U Pandita would ask me a different question. Soon I was practicing mindfulness in everything I was doing. I discovered that when I stopped resisting this continuity of awareness, it opened up a deep and clear understanding of what meditation actually is. U Pandita's precision and ardency regarding meditation practice raised my efforts to a whole new level.
Wandering mind has a hard time staying present. Always rehashing the past, or rehearsing the future. Wandering mind needs all the help it can get, starting with us slowing down, and taking the time to notice.