Being Present

When I took a mindfulness class in January this year, the teachers said that if you googled "mindfulness" in 2007, there was barely any results.  Today you get over 2 million hits. 

Like a lot of people, I'm a recent convert to mindfulness, but a few years ago I read a "monk's tale" about it that really rubbed me the wrong way.  "If this is what it means to 'be present,'" I thought, "those zen monks can keep it for themselves."

No Zen student would presume to teach others until he had lived with his master for at least ten years.

Tenno, having completed his ten years of apprenticeship, acquired the rank of teacher. One day, he went to visit the master Nan-in. It was a rainy day, so Tenno wore wooden clogs and carried an umbrella.

When he walked in, Nan-in greeted him with, "You left your wooden clogs and umbrella on the porch, didn't you? Tell me, did you place your umbrella on the right side of the clogs or on the left?"

Tenno was embarrassed, for he did not know the answer. He realized he lacked awareness. So he became Nan-in's student and labored for another ten years to acquire constant awareness."

When I first read this, I thought Nan-in was a hard-ass. Why would he restrict someone's freedom from doing something else with his mind while he did something as menial as putting his shoes down? We need to double task just to keep up with a fraction of the demands the world makes of us. At best, this spiritual system sounded boring; at worst, mentally invasive and abusive.

Then the other day, it really hit home what the payoff was for "being present".  I was rushing out the door for work, and as I came from the kitchen to pick up my purse, I knew exactly where I had set my car keys twenty seconds prior.  This was a new feeling for me, as I was used to scrambling and swearing.  Mindfulness isn't easy.  It takes a lot of work.  But if this is the progress after just a year of taking that course, I'm curious to see what happens after 5.