31 October 2019

Minding My Own Busyness

Recently, I found myself in a restaurant with three other mindfulness teachers, shovelling Pad Thai down my throat at great speed and with considerable mess. We were discussing meditation between partially digested mouthfuls while repeatedly checking the time.

We were on a short lunch break during a mindfulness conference and, time- and food-wise, had bitten off more than we could chew. Rushing back to the conference, splattered in noodle sauce, still attempting to conclude discussions, I had the vaguest glimmer of knowledge that I wasn’t so much ‘walking my walk’ as stumbling around in a state of mindlessness.

Sure enough, two hours later, during a talk on the importance of a teacher’s embodiment of mindfulness, I discovered myself – partially slouched in a plastic chair, partially propped up against the conference room wall to ease my indigestion – firing off non-urgent emails on my phone.

This was a ‘good’ moment. It reminded me that mindfulness is not about where I go, what I do, who I hang out with, or what labels I attach to ‘me’. It is simpler than all of those.

Simple as in: being sensitive to the cause and effect of actions. Simple as in: being aware of the relationship between stress and response. Simple as in: taking care of body and mind. Simple as in: getting clear about one’s priorities in the here-and-now.

Action Plans

I once received a useful teaching from a car mechanic on how to handle the human tendency for doing too much. He knew his propensity for taking on more jobs than he could handle and further overloading himself by not taking proper holidays. So he would staple together certain pages of his work diary to indicate when he would take breaks from work. Crucially, he would always stick to his plan. Skilful intention, resolution, kindness and care, all manifested with the click of a stapler. Nice work.

Something I’ve been practising myself for a while is to pause when I find myself facing an unconsidered task or situation, and to inwardly pose three questions: Do I need to take this on? Do I want to take this on? What is my intention here? Momentarily stopping and checking in with myself often clarifies how best to proceed.

Of course, I can just as easily forget to do this. These are the times when I find myself biting off more than I can chew, blundering about like a nitwit, and washing off noodle stains afterwards.

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