teach me mindfulness," I would implore. "Focus on today's class, and
don't be distracted," Dr. Winter would always reply. One of the greatest
teachers faced my incessant requests. He had been a monk in Tibet,
under a vow of silence for eight years, before he went on to the
University of Vienna to teach philosophy.
When the semester
ended for Summer break, my professor finally conceded to my insistence,
and offered for me to stay with him for 3 months at his farm. Each day, I
anxiously awaited to learn his insight, and each day he'd hand me a
shovel and a broom to clean the horse stables. He would shovel and sweep
next to me, but seemed so pleased with himself to have me cutting the
task in half for him. He'd say, "WAKE UP, Mr. Sonnon! You're missing all
this crap!" And then he'd laugh to himself.
After an entire
day of indentured servitude - tired, hungry and fatigued - I would
shower, eat and attempt to keep my head from collapsing into my bowl
awaiting a glimmer of wisdom from the frustratingly vibrant, old
Days and weeks passed with the same routine.
Finally, out of the deafening silence, I exploded while shoveling manure
out of the horse stable stalls, “All I’ve been doing is shoveling CRAP
for months, and I haven’t yet learned a thing about flow!” He shook his
head at me smiled, and said, “You’re absolutely correct, Mr. Sonnon.” He
walked away saying, "Put your heart, mind, intellect and soul even to
your smallest acts. The secret lies inside the 'crap' in your life."
In class the next semester, my professor told us, "Before
Enlightenment, you shovel crap and clean stalls, after Enlightenment,
shovel crap and clean stalls." What’s the difference? The tasks are the
same. Though the practical necessity remains, your attitude differs.
Last night I took my son out for guys' night: Muay Thai, Sashimi and a
movie (The Croods). During the movie, in the warm room, in the dark,
alone with no one else in the theater, I dozed off. My son elbowed me in
the ribs, "DAD! Wake up, you're missing guy's night!" Laughing, and
recalling my lesson from Dr. Winter, I sat up straight, at my little
When you do anything, stay awake. What frame of
mind you bring to your work? Do you approach it as if it were a
nuisance? Do you remove your awareness from it so that you fill with
regret, resentment or worry? What 'ordinary moments' are you missing in
your lack of mindfulness? What would you need to do to be more fully
Practice mindfulness in even the most insignificant
things, my professor and my son taught me. It does little good to attain
clarity of mind in martial arts competition, if you lose it as soon as
you leave the mat. Pay attention to the interrupting emotions and
distracting thoughts that enter your mind when you do ANY task. See if
you can let them go and just focus on where you are RIGHT NOW.
The only discernible difference between enlightened teachers with whom
I've studied, and myself, is they do the exact same task as me, but
"lighter." Be lighter. Life is much too serious to be taken seriously.