Written by Chris
Christchurch, New Zealand – I’ve still been reflecting on my recent kung fu days and, in particular, something one of our instructors said has been rattling around in my head. During one training session, he told us,
I have never found anything that made me feel so “in the moment” as martial arts does. When you are immersed in a conflict, there is no space for your mind to chatter and that is what has drawn me to center my life around kung fu.
And I got to thinking that that is often what a great proportion of us are after in life; to feel connected or present or in a state of mindfulness or flow or whathaveyou. We go after it in different ways, through competition or art or especially extreme sports, we are looking to be “in the moment” in what we do. It has to be challenging, but not excessively so, and novel but not alien. In short, the task has to stretch us to just beyond our current mental capacity so that there are no spare mental cycles left to chatter in the background.
And then I got to thinking that travel is another vehicle for this and maybe that is why so many of us are drawn to it. It is challenging managing schedules and navigating foreign worlds; everything is novel from the scenery to the culture to the languages, and sometimes it takes every bit of your mental capacity just to get yourself a good meal. A lot of times when people are recounting a memory from some past travel experience (say, “I remember this one time when I was standing in Rome and the way the sun hits the buildings was just incredible.”) what they are really recalling is a time when they were completely immersed in the moment and just taking it all in.
The really good news is that we don’t need to repeatedly jump out of airplanes or travel around the world to get this experience. Mindfulness is a skill that can be cultivated. We also studied meditation during our training and I found great little book in the kung fu library, The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist monk out of Vietnam. It is a great practical instruction book on creating a mindfulness practice in everything we do. What is really boils down to is to learn to appreciate the feelings and sensations going through you right now and stop worrying about the problems of the past or the worries of the future. Or, in the words of the master himself,
There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.
-Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness
He then goes on to say,
If while washing the dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes.
In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future – and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.
To do so is entirely free and entirely up to you.