In Buddhism ‘attention’ is a vital force. It glues the world together. And it is the means to free ourselves from the world. When we bring our attention to a situation, to anything, we open an energetic relationship to the object of attention, to the overall situation, and to ourselves. Each situation is many things, but it is also an energy that we activate through our presence, and through our attention and intention. This energy is not in the range of thinking.
Our attitudes and intentions are the precepts which free or freeze each occasion. Here are a few practices you can do in homeopathic doses in order to enter more deeply into your immediate situation and into yourself.
For example, take a little time each day and see if you can feel your body centered and whole on each thing you touch. Say that you pick up an eraser or a leaf, at that moment the eraser or leaf and your fingers are the center. You let everything flow into that center. Your head and body and eyes at that moment feel as if they are on the periphery. I am describing how it feels. The ‘center’ can be the contact of your forearm or elbow on a table or chair. The center can be the center of your forehead, your hara (lower belly), or your hands folded on your lap.
Or say, if you look at a flower or a photo, let the looking and the feeling in the looking become a center, a completion. Or just as your foot touches the ground or floor, walking, standing, or sitting, feel the energy of the earth come all the way up through your spine, feel it awakening every part of you. Do something like this once or twice a day. It will affect the whole day. This is using the immediate environment and situation as medicine.
You can think of your own prescriptions, but here are a few more small Everyday Zen antidotes to our uncentered and often depleted mind and body. For example: Take a moment and view each thing present to you as extremely precise. Feel the space around that preciseness. Let preciseness and the space merge into brightness.
See each thing for some moments as a repository of energy that can be shared by you, transferred to you, or transferred to others.
Stop in your breath for a moment. Feel it rise and fall. Feel the bottom and top of the turning of the breath. Stop at the turns. For a moment let everything go. Disappear.
Stay in the awareness of each sense, one at a time.
Follow a thought or feeling to its source, let the source turn into light.
Keep your attention on an object, until the object returns your attention.
The general practice of mindfulness is to make the particular things you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch objects of contemplation—points on which the mind rests. And through the practice of meditation you can begin to make the mind itself and consciousness itself, the object of contemplation. So the practice of the present situation, the practice of ‘everyday Zen’, is to make the present situation the object of contemplation and to make the mind that knows the present situation the object of contemplation.
I get rather tired of the pat expressions of Zen as being the present, the eternal present, just this moment, etc., without really looking at the practice and real taste of the everyday. Phrases like “clear your mind”, “don’t think”, etc., are often used rather glibly in Buddhism. They’re simple and nice, but they’re seldom studied well enough to see what they ask of us, to see what their craft and realization require.
So I feel it’s important to see practice as clearly as possible, particularly here in the West where we are reestablishing Buddhism—and where we already have a lot of baggage of our own. That’s why I am not just emphasizing bringing yourself into the immediate situation; I am also emphasizing bringing the present into yourself, into a subtle interaction with your mind and body. In Zen we are trying to give you a craft of arriving in the present and of realizing yourself in the present.
The present is not an abstraction. It exists in particularities, in our sense fields, in our mind, in our presence, in our views, and in our freedom from views. And it is in our personal history and karma. The present exists in the extended situation which includes much that is remote from us. It is gathered in all points and extended in all directions. It is all-at-onceness. It includes everything from the most ephemeral particles, to the ancient light of stars, to the paths of birds. We say when one speck of dust arises the great earth is contained, when a single flower blooms the world arises. Hongzhi says, “that all Buddhas and every ancestor without exception arrive at this refuge where the three times cease and the 10,000 changes are silent. Not a single atom opposes us. Behold the gleaming. Everything flows out. Arising from the single mind.” (Leighton, Yi Wu, Cultivating the Empty Field)
Lin—chi instructed, “Followers of the Way, the Dharma of the buddhas calls for no special undertakings. Just act ordinary, without trying to do anything particular. Move your bowels, piss, get dressed, eat your rice, and if you get tired, then lie down. Fools may laugh at me, but wise persons will know what I mean.” He also says, “The Buddha can enter the realm of form without being misled by form, enter the realm of sound without being misled by sound, enter the realm of odor without being misled by odor, enter the realm of taste without being misled by taste, enter the realm of touch without being misled by touch, enter the realm of Dharma without being misled by Dharma. Though his substance is defiled, made up of the five aggregates, he has the transcendental power of walking on the earth.” And finally, he says, “The true and proper person of the Way from moment to moment never permits any interruption of his mind. When the great teacher Bodhidharma came from the West, he was simply looking for a person who would not be misled by others.” (Burton Watson, The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi)
I hope I have been able to express both the simplicity and complexity of Everyday Zen without falling either into complications or the temptation to be too simple. I still find it amazing that—central to the transmission of Buddha’s mind—there are no scriptures, no revealed teachings, no heaven or hell, just the immediate situation. All the teachings and practices of Zen point to and reveal the immediate situation. This is the sutra of the Everyday! The treasure and simplicity of the Everyday!