stories of Zen: every minute Zen

I’d like to pick up a thread that I’ve let sit fallow for too long, longer than I’d intended. This is a thread I’d previously written about here and here.

Number 35 of the 101 stories that make up the first part of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones compiled by Paul Rips is called Every Minute Zen.

The summary: Tenno had passed his apprenticeship and was visiting the Zen master Nan-in. It was raining and so Tenno had an umbrella. Nan-in asked whether Tenno had set his umbrella to the left or to the right of his wooden clogs, and Tenno couldn’t remember. This raised doubt in Tenno’s mind, as he wasn’t able to keep his Zen with him every minute, and so he became Nan-in’s student.

So why do I like this one? We’ve each experienced those moments when we’ve done something, and we know we’ve done it because we have the evidence of having done it, but we don’t have a clear memory of the process of doing. I’ve had aikido moments like this, particularly in tradings, and in retrospect it’s a strange experience.

But the world is a busy and complicated world, and it is difficult sometimes to maintain awareness, to maintain mindfulness, amidst the chaos of the world.

At this particular moment, I’m aware of how I’m sitting. I’m aware of Buttercup using her scratching post, and the fading light outside as the day winds down to evening. I’m aware of the unceasing weight of the persisting pandemic and the other events that fill the news.

I find local mindfulness to be somewhat easier than global mindfulness. It’s hard to keep the whole of the world in mind. It’s hard to properly consider the world. But I can do more work on my local mindfulness.

For instance, I had a stretch earlier this evening. During my stretch, I try to pay attention to what’s going on inside my skin, because I have always felt that a stretch is a conversation that I have with my muscles, my tendons and ligaments, my bones, and it’s a conversation that I always want to remain calm and measured, with no yelling.

This evening I’ll pay attention to my dinner, bite by bite, and in the morning I’ll pay attention to my coffee, sip by sip. And I’ll pay attention to the individual moments as they step by, and some days that’s all we can do.

And this is what this particular story has stirred up in my brain. There’s always something more to work on. Something more to do. And this provides some direction to our days.

~ by Jim Anderson on 2 May 2022.

One Response to “stories of Zen: every minute Zen”

  1. Paying attention (to anything) has become harder for me recently. I am experimenting with keeping a list of happy-making things, small things, and starting a new list every week. This does help to focus and direct my attention a little.

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