The Most Important Thing

When I was practicing mindfulness in a monastic community, one of my most important teachers was the person responsible for taking care of hospitality for the monks and for any guests we would have (mostly visiting teachers). Her job involved a lot of activity, and during work period she would often be seen walking quickly, head down, attending to some task. In the middle of her busy-ness, she would come to a dead stop and look around and breathe. "I don't want to waste this precious life," she said. In doing this, she reminded herself of her deepest intention, the one that transcended and encompassed all the others. From that position of knowing the most important thing, the rest of one's life can actually make sense.

What is your deep intention? What is the reason to practice mindfulness-based stress reduction? Yes, of course it is your desire to relieve your stress, but for what purpose? What do you want to do that you cannot do when you are too stressed? What do you really value in life that your stress keeps you from actualizing? Who would you like to be, if only your difficulties did not interfere?

No one practices mindfulness without a reason. As Jon Kabat Zinn has said from the beginning, mindfulness is deliberate. Our ingrained habits will gradually but inexorably bring us into a state of only cursory and limited awareness. Left to be guided by entropy, we will eventually relate to the world simply through our habits and prejudices. To counteract this psychological tendency toward accommodation and dullness, we have to know why we want to pay attention. To support our mindfulness practice, knowing the most important thing is the most important thing.

You might try finding a way to express this intention in a little gatha or breath-poem that you can say to yourself on the inbreath and outbreath.

This - breath
Calm - and free
Heart - and mind
Open - to all
Or in a more traditional vein, this condensation of a passage from the Teaching on Loving Kindness:
May all beings - be happy
May they be joyous - and live in safety
All living beings - weak or strong
May all beings - be happy
How about for you? What is your gatha that expresses the most important thing?

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1 comment:

Delany Dean, JD, PhD said...

Wonderful post! Reminding myself of the intention(s) behind my mindfulness practice (and my motives and intentions are certainly subject to fluctuation, over time and circumstances) is such an important part of providing me with ever-needed encouragement and motivation to sit, to practice, to come back to "now," over and over again.

For a gatha, I have really appreciated the very brief formula that I found in Austin's new(er) Zen/Brain book: very simply, getting settled with "just... " on the inbreath and "this... " on the outbreath. It helps me to let go of some of clutter and chatter.