Ichigyo Zammai

The practice of doing "just one activity" is called ichigyo zammai in Japanese. It is really a cornerstone of mindfulness practice. Even though it has a Japanese term associated with it, it's really nothing special. We all have experiences of engaging in it. When you think about it, mindful breathing is an example of ichigyo zammai, because we are bringing our awareness to that single activity of breathing. You might say that in mindfulness, when we breathe, we just breathe. The body scan is a similar concentration of awareness into "just one activity."

One-pointedness is essential to the process of dealing with stress because it enables us to be simply in the present, doing what we are doing. Everything else - like worrying about what we are doing, anticipating what will happen next, judging ourselves for what we have already done - is extra. More and more, we hope to make those extra stress-generating activities optional. We hope to have more of a choice about how deeply we get involved in them.

In our stress reduction classes, we emphasize finding the opportunities for ichigyo zammai in our daily lives. I am particularly fond of engaging in it when I am working in the kitchen, preparing food or cleaning up after a meal. I always think it is a good idea to be mindful when I am working with a sharp knife! It's really a simple practice of remembering to breathe with awareness and settle into the present at the beginning of each activity. This encourages the mind to clear and to be really present with the knife and the carrots and the cutting board. Then, as we go through the activity, we commit ourselves to being present, and we decline the myriad opportunities to be distracted and diffused. Gently and joyfully, we keep returning to our present moment, no matter how many times our mind takes us somewhere else.

For me, this practice turns a potentially boring and devalued task into something that is worthy of my attention and something that actually brings me pleasure. If I engage in the task of chopping carrots with full awareness - of my body, the activity, and an appreciation of the way in which the universe has brought this offering of nourishment to me - I can actually find a refuge in the activity. I know that taking care of these carrots is taking care of my family and honoring the efforts of all those beings who caused the carrots and the cutting board to appear before me. Far from drudgery, it is a wonderful opportunity to participate deeply in the process of life on earth.

There are so many of these refuges available to all of us! Possibly we make a decision to be attentive to the space through which we are walking, honoring the people who planted the trees and poured the concrete while we appreciate the beauty and comfort their activities are bringing us. We know that our mindfulness is a process of being aware and then distracted, and then reestablishing our awareness, and we are helped in this process by the fact that every activity is always inviting us to be fully present and engaged. Ichigyo Zammai is actually the practice of participating in our lives.

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David Godot said...

This was a nice explanation. Cooking and eating are such great activities to be really involved with. They both offer so much direct, sensory feedback that just a small increase in mindfulness can yield very recognizable results.

I know that for me, at the end of a long day, preparing a nice robust meal full of colors and textures and aromas helps me to bring myself back into focus and enjoy myself right there in the moment.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a wonderful saying:
'Before enlightenment, do laundry;
after enlightenment, do laundry'

The art of being in the middle of an experience is a challenge, but rewarding.
The great thing is that once we start to become mindful of the whole experience, any single experience becomes less distinct, which is great for people experiencing chronic pain. It's very hard to remain focused on the pain when at the same time the breath is coming in, the hands are feeling, the nose is smelling, the feet are grounded....