• joe@jhanderson.biz   
    (206) 351-5607   

  • I wish I was one of those people who could spout off an appropriate story at every moment, illuminating situations with the perfect teaching tale that is memorable and concrete. My friend Jamal Rahman has this ability, with amazing Bangladeshi Sufi tales waiting around every corner. I’m jealous!

    Recently, however, a good story did come to mind at just the right moment. I was leading a client workshop about workplace mindfulness and one of the participants, who exhibited all the signs of being a harried executive, asked, “Let’s be honest. I am so busy that I eat my lunch at my desk every day. When am I gong to find time for mindfulness?”

    I was glad she asked the question, and told her so. And then somehow unbidden a great Zen story popped into my mind. So I related it to the group.

    A certain abbot of a Zen monastery used to tell the monks, “When you eat, eat. And when you read, read.” The monks, eager to put this profound bit of wisdom into practice, began to pay very close¬† attention to each bite, each grain of rice, in the dining hall. During study sessions, they intently studies the sutras with great care. Pleased with their activities, they went to visit the abbot in his study.

    They found him eating a bowl of ramen and reading the newspaper.

    Dumbfounded, they said, “Master! What are you doing? You told us, ‘When you eat, eat.’ You told us, ‘When you read, read.'”

    The master replied, “When you eat and read, eat and read.”

    I think the point of the story is that mindful attention is not dependent on the nature of the activity we’re engaged in. It’s dependent on the quality of the attention we bring to the activity. We can always imagine a more tranquil environment, fewer distractions, more opportunity to sink deeply into mindful awareness. But for most of us, the world is likely to continue to pressing in on us in one way or another. So: whatever your circumstances, even if your mind is divided of necessity, do your best to bring your full awareness to what you are doing.

    Is it better to get away from your desk and have a peaceful lunch where you can gather your thoughts? Of course it is. But if you can’t do that, you always have a choice to relate to what you’re doing–whatever it is–with just a little bit more attention to the present moment, and be a little less lost in thought.