"Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are."
- José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955)

This is central to the teaching of Zen Buddhism, but one does not need to be a Buddhist or, for that matter, a student of Zen to implement it into your daily life.

If you are like most people, your mind is very noisy. You have a constant flood of thoughts and ideas and prejudices about all sorts of things that come unbidden to modify each thought. Particularly in Western culture, this process does not slow down, but increases exponentially throughout life. Eventually, you reach a point where you can no longer truly pay total attention to anything.

Sit back and think about that for a moment, and notice how you will probably immediately agree or disagree with this statement. Where did that come from? It came from the building blocks your ego has created to be able to assess something quickly and effortlessly without fully paying attention to it. Notice too, how if you do just sit and think about what I have said for a minute or two, how many other intrusive thoughts will force their way into your conscious mind during that short time. Some call this human intelligence or the power of cognition. I simply call it noise.

Your noisy mind is a distraction. How often do you think about the automatic things you do? Do you respond like Pavlov's dog when the phone rings, and answer it with a question? Do you think about driving a car or do you daydream and/or distract yourself with music or talking on the phone? Take a moment to think about the things you do automatically. There are plenty of little things and some big things, I'm sure.

This trend increases based on the complexity of the mind in question. The more complex the mind, the more powerful the internal image of ego, and the more forceful and invasive the chatter of many thoughts.

Many people remember sharp and clear images of certain things they observed as a child. This is no accident. As a child, most people are fascinated with the newness of the world, and have plenty of attention to devote to the simplest thing. As we grow older, many things distract us. Our life goals, wondering if that attractive man or woman likes you, how you are going to spend your weekend, or even what you are going to have for lunch, not to mention invasive memories of things past. These things are important, but not to the point of forgetting that you are trying to live a life in the present. You are here now. You are not in the past or future and never will be.

The way most people should behave is to live in the now. This transcends any dogmatic or cultural teachings and is not a question of ethics or other philosophy. You are here, so why not devote yourself to it fully? Lose yourself in the act of what you are doing. Pay attention to the details of life without getting lost in dreaming.

This takes a lot of practice to complete, but you can start it today. Stop what you are doing and look around you. Look at your coffee, the steering wheel of your car, or any other object or activity. Devote yourself to it fully, as if it is the only thing in existence. Many people might think this to be a waste of time, but we have finite time in this world, and to spend it on autopilot or worrying about needless things is the true waste.

Today, spiritual teachers, new age people, and self-help specialists speak of "Be here now." This is not new, but has been spoken for thousands of years. It unquestionably improves ones quality of life and brings appreciation for the minute details of the world around us.

There is also an old adage that reads, "Ignorance is bliss." This is not strictly true, but perhaps would be better phrased as "Simplicity is bliss." Ignorance is never something to embrace, but simplicity can be. The more complex your mind, the more difficult this may be to achieve. You may need to work at it longer, but it is well worth the time spent. Take a deep breath and think about that breath. Read the bottom of your cups or bowls, and think about the places the many items in your house are made. Do little things that mean nothing.

Most of all, enjoy being alive. You'll regret it if you don't.

One of the problems with this is that certain things, such as driving and most other things that the previous writeup referred to as 'automatic' are done considerably worse when thought is devoted to them. Thinking about how you do things in itself distracts from actually doing them.

You can use this principle to beat people skilled in sports if you lose once, then ask them what you did wrong. Chances are, first time around they weren't actually thinking about what they did - it was automatic - but when you ask them how they did it, in the next game they will focus on that and not be able to play well. Don't bet on this though (literally or figuratively) as it most likely doesn't apply to everything, not to mention that most likely the person will be able to return to their normal automatic mode of play in a fairly short time.

Or, take driving. Most people who have been driving for a long period of time, say more than a few years, unconsciously form behaviors and responses to common driving scenarios; person pulls out there, ease on brake now, accelerate again. These responses tend to be very efficient and above all fast - far faster than actual thought about the driving. Almost reflexive; watch anyone driving when someone pulls in front of them and they hit the brake instantly - no pause for thought. While this probably causes a few accidents, it most likely prevents far more.


That being said, for the most part, I agree with the above writeup - simplicity is better for play.. Just not for driving.

"simplicity is better for play.. Just not for driving."

I faced this same issue, but eventually came to realize how to make it work, at least for me.

First off, how often have we seen someone on the road "lost in thought" and not paying attention? Yes, they seem to be driving just fine, until they drift out of the lane (which they correct with a jerk to the wheel) or they sit at a stop light and not notice the light has turned green? Being on "automatic" (unconscious) is not necessarily all that great.

The trick I found is not to let my mind wander. This does not mean to concentrate on any one thing (such as the gas pedal). Instead, I just drive "aware" with my mind clear. I admit I "clear" my mind by noticing something such as the vibration of the car as it moves (something general -- easy to notice, not specific such as the action of my foot on the brake).

No, I don't do this all the time because overall my discipline is pretty meager. However, I notice that when I have my family in the car I'm much more prone to "drive with the car" where when I'm driving alone, too often I'm totally automatic (lost in thought - coming to, every once in awhile).

I wasn't able to do this in the car until I had practiced sitting (zazen) for some time. Before I had enough experience just sitting still and being very aware (lots of headaches!), when I had tried it in the car I found myself making an increased number of little mistakes. It was almost as if trying to be aware, made me less aware. Works fine now and has even made "simply driving" a bit more fun and enjoyable.

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