The world has grown larger in the past couple of centuries as we have gone beyond our villages and towns, beyond our states and countries, as we have sailed and flown to foreign parts and discovered other villages, towns, and countries. Hopefully, we have learned that the people in those other countries are just like us; flesh and blood, with feelings, emotions, likes and dislikes; that they also love certain things about life; that they love their children, husbands and wives; that they too are fallible and make mistakes just as we do. Hopefully, we have gained a broader view of humanity as a whole and now understand the greater interconnectedness of all things and that we are all responsible for what happens on our planet no matter where we live. Hopefully, we have learned that we are all the same in so many ways, because now may be the time for us to return to our villages and towns and countries, taking with us all that we have learned. Now may be the time for us to utilize what we have learned, for all humanity.
With the crisis in Japan the world has changed. We must accept this fact. We must figure out how we want to live now that we can no longer rely on trade with Japan to support our abundant lifestyles. Our cars must come from within our own borders, our food must be local, our responsibility to the entire world rests on us all making changes that are good for the Earth. We must not only change our personal lives, but we must pressure our governments to change as well, to be a part of the greater world without a doubt, but to make decisions that take into consideration the larger global picture that we have a greater understanding of now that we have all become world explorers. But it is time for the explorers to take what has been learned and, with that new knowledge firmly grasped, return home and change.
So how can we personally change? How can we as individuals make progress toward changing the way things are done? We can start with mindfulness. In the Buddhist sense, mindfulness is staying present in the moment, in as many moments as possible throughout the day. It is being mindful of how we walk, how we eat, how we talk. It is being mindful of how we drive, how we spend our time, how we think. It is being mindful of how we love, how we give, how we receive. It is being mindful of what we choose to look at, read, and allow into our bodies. It is being mindful of our thoughts, judgments, criticisms of our self and others. It is being mindful of our intents, our prayers, our desires. In essence, being mindful is being aware, and being aware of ourselves in the world is how we can be mindful of how we can change.
In practical terms, we must first accept that we are all living in Japan now. Our world has changed. That is the first thing we must take into consideration as we turn and study our personal responsibilities to this changed world. How can I mindfully be present and aware?
“Most of the time, we are lost in the past or carried away by the future. When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace, and love.” So writes Thich Nhat Hanh in The Long Road Turns to Joy, A Guide to Walking Meditation.
I propose meditation in everyday life, in constantly reminding the self to be present, as the means of gaining greater awareness of ourselves in the world and greater awareness of what we must do to change and flow with the energy of nature, now guiding us in this process of change. This does not have to be anything more than reminding the self to focus on each task that we do, to do it mindfully. Personally, I try to be mindful from the moment I wake up. I am not always successful, since it is impossible to be mindful every moment of every day, but the more often I pull my thoughts back to what I am doing the more I am able to be present. Each one of those tiny moments of presence, of awareness of the moment, adds up. Being mindful throughout the day is really very simple.
When I get out of bed and put my feet onto the floor, I say to myself: I am putting my feet onto the floor. I feel the floor under my feet. I am walking, walking, walking. I am waking up with each step. I am noticing the morning darkness or the morning light. I am walking.
When I make my morning coffee, I say to myself: I am making the coffee. I am running the water, measuring the coffee, thanking the earth for the water, the coffee plantations for the delicious coffee beans. I am staying mindfully focused on what I am doing, turning this process into a mantra as I awaken to a new day mindfully. When I drink my freshly brewed coffee, I say to myself: I am drinking this coffee. I am drinking and feeling each sip I take. I am mindfully drinking my coffee.
As the day goes on, I continue to remind myself to pay attention to what I am doing. When I eat, I say to myself: I am eating now. I am eating this delicious food that someone else has grown and tended and I thank them for it. If I keep thanking and focusing on what I am doing other thoughts easily leave, but they come back quickly, so I must again remind myself of what I am doing. This is practicing mindfulness.
In accepting that we are all personally responsible, as citizens of the world, we can turn to the small things in life as the place to begin making the most changes, having the most impact. As we mindfully go about our day we may discover where we are sloppy with our time and thoughts. We may discover that, as we pay attention to each task, we slow down considerably and in so doing gain not only peaceful moments of calm, but discover that we don’t really need to hurry at all, because we see that in slowing down mindfully we have plenty of time for the things that really matter. And that is the crux of what our world is asking of us now. What really matters?
“The First Noble Truth,” writes Thich Nhat Hahn, “taught by the Buddha is the presence of suffering. Awareness of suffering generates compassion, and compassion generates the will to practice the Way.” If we are to practice the Way, live mindfully in balance with nature, inner and outer nature, we must be aware of suffering. Right now there is suffering in Japan, in the Middle East, and in our own countries there is suffering every day.
We can mindfully remind ourselves of this by saying: I am aware of the suffering in Japan. I am aware of the suffering as the wars in the Middle East are waged. I am aware of the suffering in my own backyard. I feel this suffering. I accept the truth of suffering. I know what it means to suffer too. I now turn my heart outward and send compassion on the wings of intent. I am mindful of my power to change and to change the world by my intent.
This is mindful living. Try it.
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