Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
— Thich Nhat Hanh
Many Buddhist monastics have gathas (short verses) they say throughout the day as they perform routine tasks. The one above is one of my favorites. It’s Thich Nhat Hanh’s gatha for when he first awakens. The Dalai Lama has a longer version with a similar theme.
It’s pleasant to wake up and smile, and I’ll get better at it as soon as my wife stops kicking me out of bed as soon as my alarm rings. But waking up smiling is not hard once you get a verse like this one implanted into your routine. Looking at beings with eyes of compassion may be more challenging, but I think we all know how to do it. The trickiest part is living fully in each moment,
Thich Nhat Hanh has often talked about washing the dishes. If you see washing the dishes as an obstacle on the way to the next thing on your list, you are never washing the dishes, and most likely you won’t be doing the next thing either, because your mind will be elsewhere. Try washing the dishes tonight — really washing them. Breathe and smile and note the way the water feels on your hands and arms. Feel the smooth surface of the plate as it gets clean. Watch the dirty water swirl down the drain. Pretty soon it will be a pleasant chore, or at least not one to avoid. And you will be more fully present for that part of your day, living fully.
We could argue all day over whether one can ever be fully present, but, hey, if 90% is the best I can do, I’ll take it.
The present moment is all we have. The past as well as the future are mental constructions. Memory is deeply flawed and matter keeps changing. The future can only be speculation. Even the present is filtered through a Rube Goldberg mechanism we call a brain. Which is why we do the best we can to accomplish what sounds like a paradox — quieting our mind in order to be mindful.
In order to live fully in each moment, we need to quiet the narrator part of our mind so that we experience stuff as it is, untainted by: It sucks to do dishes. Don’t bother rinsing off that one. Let’s get this over with so we can relax and watch Jeopardy. Wouldn’t you rather be checking your blog stats?
In Buddhism and the Brain, an article I re-posted from Seed magazine on October 9, David Weisman finds that some ancient Buddhist concepts have been confirmed by modern science. But he seems to attribute many of the correlations to coincidence — lucky guesses. No one living a half century before the birth of Christ could possibly have intuited quantum physics.
I know this makes me sound like a lunatic, but I wonder (just wonder) whether the Buddha was so damn good at quieting his thoughts and experiencing the moment that he did indeed intuit (via his own monitoring of his body) some of modern science.
You don’t need to get that good, though, Another one of my teachers, Anh-Hung Nguyen, once told me that all of Buddhism could be summed up in six words: Living happily in the present moment. You don’t need to strive for anything more than that.
This track was the Number 1 hit in the United States n September 1926, one month before Thich Nhat Hanh was born.
Copyright 2015 © Mel Harkrader Pine