Here at Antaiji it’s been raining for four days, but regardless of the weather it sometimes feels like the days blur or smear, running into each other like watercolors on wet paper, losing some of the distinction that seems to mark them in a more secular place.
Because the days blur, I’ve been noticing what the ‘mind’ does with this sameness. How the mind likes to take me on a ride to virtual destinations that I had no intention of going to. Or take me on a thought loop, motivated by a desire to find a solution to a problem or resolve a scenario. In the latter case, I fool myself into thinking that my mind can reach a destination or solution, when in fact it just runs around in circles like a scared mouse. These days I can often stand back and notice that I’m being taken for a ride or a loop, and the mind’s influence lessens. So that I use my mind when I need to, but it doesn’t use me.
But who or what controls the kind of ride or loop? And who or what initiates it in the first place? Theoretically, I’m in control and the more I practice, the more in control I am and the better the overall ride should be...if I even go on a ride in the first place.
At least one key element of practice is mindfulness. But the meaning of mindfulness and its practice has changed drastically for me since I got here. Before, mindfulness, to me, meant short-circuiting mental rides and thought loops and focusing in on whatever I was doing whether I was brushing my teeth, washing dishes, or engaged in kinhin. Since coming here, I’ve often felt I haven’t been mindful enough, because when I focus, there’s a lot that’s going on that I’ve been excluding from my perception. Here, I’ve been gradually forced to increase the bandwidth (Docho-san’s term) of my mindfulness practice to include as much of the here and now I can possibly fit into my brain:
Not only do I want to be aware of the task I’m engaged in, but I also want to be aware of all the other Sangha members, whether I can be of assistance to someone else, the environment in my vicinity, and whether there is a Sangha-related activity or responsibility coming up in the near future I should be paying attention to now in order to perform it more efficiently. It’s weird that it should be so hard to do this. On a positive note, it does get easier as I become more practiced in the routines, in what to expect… But then, maybe the clue is really just to be so present, so balanced, so ‘out of the way’ of myself, that I can function mindlessly:“If you are mindful, you are already creating a separation ("I - am - mindful -of - ...."). Don't be mindful, please! When you walk, just walk. Let the walk walk. Let the talk talk (Dogen Zenji says: "When we open our mouths, it is filled with Dharma"). Let the eating eat, the sitting sit, the work work. Let sleep sleep. Kinhin is nothing special. We do not have to make our everyday life into something special.” – from Antaiji - Adult Practice:18 (Dôchô-san Neruke Muhô)