Holiday favourites – precious moments

Welcome to the first of our holiday specials – republishing some of the most popular reflections from the past three years:

According to the thirteenth century Zen master Dogen, there are 6,440,099,180 moments in each day. If we multiply this by the 342 days remaining of this year, we still have 2,202,513,919,560 moments ahead of us before we get to 2015. Of course, in reality it’s impossible to calculate the ephemeral nature of moments, but in mindfulness every moment is an opportunity to become more present, and Dogen’s calculation, give or take a few moments, clearly presents us with numerous opportunities to be mindful each day.

If we look at our attitude towards the many moments in our lives, we tend to divide them into a range of categories, such as:

1. Special, important moments

2. Ordinary, less-important moments

3. Suffering moments.

Leaving suffering aside for now, as this is a topic in itself, special moments can be further divided into:

1. Special moments which are exactly as we’d hoped they would be

2. Special moments which are pretty good, but in some ineffable way slightly disappointing

3. Special moments which surpass even our expectations (1 and 3 are quite rare!).

Ordinary moments, on the other hand, can include:

1. Frustratingly boring moments

2. Ok, slightly hum-drum moments

3. Moments we can cruise through on automatic pilot, without taking much notice of them

4. Moments we rush through in order to get to the special moments we actually care about.

We have a tendency to build our lives around the special moments, such as weddings, Christmas, the birth of a child, getting to the top of Mt Everest, and so on. There is no doubt that the special moments add great richness and often joy to our lives. However, if we draw up an honest inventory of our days, it’s pretty obvious that most of our lives are actually spent in the ordinary moments – all those everyday routine tasks we could almost do in our sleep – and, in fact, often end up doing more or less in a state of sleep-walking.

One of the gifts of a regular mindfulness practice is to transform how we live the so-called ‘ordinary’ moments of our lives. There are no fireworks (which is kind of the point), but you suddenly notice the water on your skin when you have a shower. You are aware of your breath when you’ve stopped at a red light. You taste the food you spent an hour preparing – and not just the first mouthful, but the whole of the meal. You pay more attention to routine tasks at work, and enjoy them more. There are millions of processes happening within our bodies and around us in the universe which make it possible for us to be alive, which allow us to experience this particular moment right now. We really don’t need any miracles, because just to be alive is miraculous enough. The practice of mindfulness allows us to appreciate and experience these many precious ordinary moments more fully.

Weekly practice idea:

Every now and then, stop and reflect on how precious this particular moment is. Take a few breaths to savour the sense of being present.

Anja Tanhane

 

An ordinary life

‘Ordinary mind is the way.’ Dogen

‘You can have anything you want if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose.’ Abraham Lincoln

There are certainly two very different philosophies of life at play in the above two statements. Having an ordinary mind doesn’t sound very appealing – after all, what’s the point of working hard, just to be ordinary? We’re unlikely to see many ads for a product which, if we buy it, promises to make us completely ordinary. Dogen was a famous Zen teacher who founded the Soto sect in Japan in the thirteenth century. This tradition is known for its long hours of sitting meditation, zazen, and its strict, rigorous training of the monks. All this discipline and sacrifice, simply to sit with an ordinary mind?

Yet the second statement also sounds exhausting to me. Do I really need to be capable of absolutely anything I put my mind to? Out of the more than six billion people in the world, do I really need to distinguish myself by being amazing and extraordinary? And not just once, but every day, my entire lifetime – all just by harnessing the power of my mind?

‘You’re living a very ordinary life’ is not usually regarded as a compliment, and yet, what is an ordinary life? It’s essentially the life we have. In fact, we are blessed if we’re able to live an ordinary life – if we’re not one of 60 million refugees, or fighting in a war, or caught up in a natural disaster. According to Dogen, an ordinary mind is all we need in order to live well. To have an ordinary, human mind is a tremendous gift. Who could ask for anything better?

Of course we want to feel special, unique, to at least a few people in the world. We don’t want to feel trapped in a dull rut, where every day seems like all you’re doing is trudging on a treadmill. We want to have a sense of spark in our lives, of vitality. Ordinary doesn’t have to be boring. Perhaps walking down the street you walk down every day, and seeing it with fresh eyes, with a sense of joy and gratitude, can help us to better appreciate the precious ordinary life we have.

As Blaise Pascal puts it so beautifully:

‘Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds with the ordinary.’

Weekly practice idea:

Think of something in your life which you take for granted, but which you would miss if it were no longer there. For example, sometimes people who’ve had a stroke lose their sense of smell and taste. Slow down and allow yourself to appreciate this ordinary part of your life.

Anja Tanhane

Precious moments

red berriesAccording to the thirteenth century Zen master Dogen, there are 6,440,099,180 moments in each day. If we multiply this by the 342 days remaining of this year, we still have 2,202,513,919,560 moments ahead of us before we get to 2015. Of course, in reality it’s impossible to calculate the ephemeral nature of moments, but in mindfulness every moment is an opportunity to become more present, and Dogen’s calculation, give or take a few moments, clearly presents us with numerous opportunities to be mindful each day. Continue reading “Precious moments” »