2020-11-29 Doing One Thing At A Time and Consistency
6:53PM Nov 29, 2020
So good morning again. And so I'd like to talk about two principles for practice, that can really allow this Buddhist practice of mindfulness practice to develop or to grow in ways that it can be done so that it's how we live our daily life, even that supports the growth of the practice.
So I spent 10 years of my life living in kind of monastic, Buddhist monastic settings. Very important times for me. I mention it now because I want to say that during those 10 years, I didn't study Buddhism much. And I didn't change, grow or develop in the practice much through study. That the primary benefits that came from those years came from my doing, what I did, the activities of certainly meditation, but the activities of monastic life. And having that ability in monastic life to kind of approach all things that I did throughout the day, being reminded throughout the day, that I was doing this in a dharmic way, doing this mindfully and with presence. So that it was in the activities of doing that something began opening, releasing, freeing, growing inside of me. And so doing, rather than studying, learning by doing. And there were two things that I learned that really made this doing of practice in everyday life, really gave it power or really added value to it. And it has to do with how we do things. And so these two things are to do one thing at a time. And to practice with consistence, with constancy.
So, to do one thing at a time. The kind of a representative of this for me was, I was practicing in a monastery in Japan. One of the more senior monks was in the kitchen chopping vegetables one evening. And I had a question. That's something I wanted to ask him, I don't think it was particularly important. So he was there with a knife, chopping vegetables with a cutting table. And I went over and asked him my question. And he put the knife down, looked up from the vegetables and just answered me directly, fully, he was fully there to answer me. And when he finished, he picked up the knife and continued chopping. And I asked another question. And he put the knife down, turned to me, and was there fully there to answer my question. He wasn't going to do two things at a time. He wasn't going to chop and talk. He was going to just be there to answer me. So that was nice. He finished and again, started chopping. And so I asked again, I hadn't really noticed what he was doing, what was happening. I just was more interested in the conversation, I guess. So the third time he put down his knife, and he said to me, Gilson, I'm here to chop the vegetables, maybe for tomorrow's meal. And, and I can't really do my work if you keep asking me questions, because he was only going to do one thing at a time. And so then I understood what he was doing. I understood that he was doing one thing and he was going to talk to me, he was going to talk to me, but he was going to chop he was going to chop. And what I was talking about was not that important, and chopping was in a sense, I don't know if it was important or not exactly that moment, but the important thing for him was he was there to practice and for practice for him meant to be fully there for the activity and not to be split. And I was kind of splitting him away from his job.
And so this idea of really kind of being present for what we did and I also learned a lot of that for myself when I was in the kitchen at monestary working and I'd never really worked in a kitchen before. So it's all kind of new. Learning to chop was new. And there was certain skills of chopping and cooking all kinds of things. But when I first came in the kitchen, I think I wasn't really that interested in being a cook or cooking. And chopping five gallons of onions or carrots was not my idea of a good time. Before I got into the kitchen, I picked up a spiritual book, at a bookshelf in a bookstore. And I opened it at random to see what it said. And I read the sentence that something like the problems most people have is not participating fully with what they're doing. And I closed the book. And that kind of rung in my mind, the one sentence stuck with me for a long time. And so when I was working in the kitchen, it was still there, the sentence, the problem we have is not participating fully. So I started paying attention to this. And I noticed that I wasn't fully there with the carrots. I was physically, I noticed in my body, that I was actually half turned towards the door, as if I really wanted to leave. And that was not really wholehearted about it, it's like it was kind of putting up with it. And so I noticed this about myself. So then I practiced turning back to just be with the carrots, and just fully be chopping carrots. And not too long afterwards, I'd find my body would turn away again and my mind would drift off. And there was other things I had in mind. And you know, this was kind of boring to do carrots. I came back to the carrots. And so those carrots became my teacher, the vegetables became my teacher and I learned so much about myself. And I learned about turning back and just doing one thing at a time. And just be fully for that. And with time I learned to enjoy quite a bit chopping vegetables. But you know, it wasn't so much the vegetables maybe. But what I enjoyed was the whole heartedness of just being with the vegetables, just chopping, just this activity. And this giving myself over fully to one activity, and not being distracted, not being split, not being resentful or not being kind of resisting to what was happening, and giving myself fully for this activity that we're supposed to be doing anyway. So I might as well do it fully. And the consequences of that, I learned a lot about the value of just really being with one thing. I also got to be fairly good to chopping vegetables. I also noticed that when I practiced that way, sometimes after a session in the kitchen, we'd go back up into the meditation hall to meditate. And if I was kind of like fighting being in the kitchen, and not really there for what I was doing, when I was a prep cook chopping a lot of vegetables, that when I sat down to meditate, I would actually be distracted. And I would take a while to settle down. But if I was really present for the carrots while I did the carrots, was present for the activity that I was doing was also like washing dishes I have to do, we have to do a lot of pots in the kitchen. Just do the pot washing. If I just did practice that way, when I went back to the meditation hall to meditate, I would already be concentrated or wasn't or non distracted. And I could settle really fast. And I saw the benefits of just really doing one thing at a time. And I see, still to this day, I see how easy it is for my mind to start being kind of more split in the activities that I do. Even earlier today, I saw that I was doing one thing I was moving through to go somewhere. And to do that on purpose had something to do. And my mind started thinking, Oh, just do that. Do this thing on the way or wait a minute, maybe go over here and take care of this right now. And there are these forces of pulling me away which all of them were innocent. But the joy or the value said no, this is what I decided to do. I'm not going to let myself be pulled aside but these other things which don't have to be done right now, let me just stay with this. And wonder what that moment where it was stay with walking to this next activity that I have to do. And I could feel that that kind of put me into kind of a groove or into a delight or into settleness. This is what I'm doing.
So if in the course of the day in lay life, outside of the monastery in your life, You start practicing more often. Just being with one thing at a time when you do. It doesn't have to be all day long and continuously. But I suspect that there's a lot of room to add this into your day. Even if you do it 5% or 1% of the activities you do through the day, you do with wholeheartedness. When I'm doing this, I'm just going to do this not going to have the radio on, I'm not going to have TV on I'm not going to be you know, listening to a podcast, I'm not going to carry on a conversation, I'm not going to be thinking about things that are elsewhere planning tomorrow, when I'm cooking, when I'm sweeping the floor, when I'm brushing my teeth, whatever it might be, doesn't have to be big dramatic things. I'm going to this would be the place, this is my monastery, this is a time where I'm going to give myself fully over to justice. As you do this, you might find protests, you might find your mind is impatient. Feel this isn't so important. I'm more important things to think about and do. This can't be really this is boring, this can't be that important. And I might as well think about more interesting things. Don't listen to those protests. If even just 1% of the day, 1% of the activities of the day, you give yourself over to doing just one thing, you'll have lots of time to think about entertain yourself with other things. But to start getting a feel for this just being here, and letting the impatience the boredom, the resistance, fall away the powers of distraction, to learn how to let them settle or be put aside to develop the skill and the interest, the love of just being there for one thing at a time, you'll start feeling the benefits of it, you start feeling the joy of it, the pleasure of the delight of it, the opening of it, the freedom that can come with that. And if you do that 1% of the time, through the day, 5% of the time, during a not big, you will start developing some of the benefits that come from living a monastic life or living on retreat meditation retreat. Because one of the advantages of being in a monastery or being on a retreat is that we're reminded to bring this attention to what we're doing many more times in daily life than people are in, in, in late life. So if you can find some way to, to really do one thing at a time, maybe choose certain activities through the day, that those are your I don't know, if you want to call it your monastic activities, your Dharma activities that you do, just one thing at a time is just do this now just brush my teeth, just whatever it might be. So that's one way to really develop the practice and grow in it. So it's kind of kind of integrates in with your whole life. The other thing that does the principle of practice is consistency, or constancy, you just have, just have a consistent thread or some different threads, threads that grow through your life, that are always there reliably, that you have a certain commitment to doing, that you're not going to waver from. So that you have a variety of benefits come up from that note, use the example of meditation practice.
So to have a consistent meditation practice, it means to have a constancy that you have a regular ongoing practice that you're committed to, without exception, except the house unless the house is burning down or something. And so you would, you know, it might be seven days a week, it might be six days a week, it's like or like the weekday. weekday days, you just every every weekday you you can meditate no matter what. So there is some consistency, some commitment. And then what happens is that, because you're committed to it without wavering, you get to see yourself in new ways. You get to see all the different forces inside of you all the different debate teams that come into play, that are explaining why you shouldn't be meditating. Too tired, I don't have time. Or there's more interesting things to do. I have commitments. I'm bored, or I'm excited about something else. All things are quite normal. But if the commitment a through line, the thread that goes through, you're always meditate, you get to see how these forces pull you around and change what you're doing. And you learn to let go of them for that period of meditation. Both those learnings are really powerful. Because unless you learn what pulls you away, left and right away from what you're doing, you won't see how you're not free. And if you learn to let go of those to really be fully present for the meditation, without letting them continue to, to, to, you know, bite your feet or bark at you, or insist that you should be doing different, then you're also learning how to be free. You're learning just to be here for this. So you both learn something about yourself, and you'll learn a skill of letting go to be fully here. Also, that consistency of meditating regularly, that way, you get the chance to see yourself in many different ways of being, sometimes you're happy, sometimes you're sad, sometimes you're tired, sometimes you're agitated, sometimes you're content, sometimes you're discontent, sometimes you're overwhelmed, sometimes you're underwhelmed, to all these different kind of changes, and ups and downs that we go through. And because you have this commitment, no matter what, whether you want to or not, you sit down to meditate, you get to see all those different ways of being. And you get to develop a different relationship to it. One way is that you learn because you have a commitment to meditation, that you learn how to be free from giving into any of them, or giving them too much importance, or letting them kind of influenced you, and how what you do and how you be also learned to be more quantumness around them a little more relaxed around them. Because you'll learn well as important as they are. They're not that important compared to during this half an hour, this period of meditation, I'm just going to do my meditation. And also because the regularity of meditation, you see these things come and go come and go. One of the, I think characteristics for many of us, is that whatever we're thinking, in the moment, whatever we're feeling in the moment, can lose perspective of the spectrum, the range of what's happening in our life at times, all the comings and goings, and the activity, the thoughts, the feelings of the moment can seem like the most important thing. But if you have just had this through line, through your life of meditation, and and you see these things come and go one day, you're happy one day, you're sad, one day, you're irritated, another day, you're bored. After a while, you see Wait a minute, these things just come and go. I don't have to take them so absolute or give so much authority to them or invest myself in them. They're just like the weather that's coming through. And I don't have to be upset about the weather or get involved in the weather, I could just sit here and in the shelter my meditation and let the weather kind of do what it does. And so we learn to take things less personally less reactive reactively. And, and, and so we're we start becoming freer and freer and less caught by the ups and downs of our life. So this through line of one thing, like meditating every day, can apply to this first principle, just one thing at a time.
So maybe some of the things you do through the day, I'm just going to brush my teeth, I'm just going to sweep the kitchen floor. And whenever you do that, you get you because you're only doing that. It has the same benefits of just meditating every day, that you see yourself in ways you'll learn how not to be pulled into the into your thoughts, your feelings, some of them are ruminations, you get to kind of step out of the stuckness of our life because it here, this is what I'm doing now. I'm just doing this. And if you do that consistently, over days and months and years, it's a tremendous amount of learning it can go on. So two principles, doing one thing at a time and doing and being consistent in what you do. This could also be things like the precepts having a consistency with right speech. Like they make that a theme for a year. I'm going to focus on my my speaking, and maybe not all day long. But there are certain places through the day, like after work or at meetings that you Okay, now I'm going to really practice with this or when you first go Come home, remember for the first 10 minutes of your home, right speech. So we have these practices we do, that we do consistently. So we can see ourselves in the situations we're in, through the vantage point of those practices of those precepts of what we're doing. It could be loving kindness, that we practice loving kindness for a while. And we do it consistently. And we see all the ups and downs, all the protests, all the ways we get pulled away from it, all the doubt, all the impatience with all kinds of things. And we get to learn, see more clearly what's happening, because the consistency of this one thing that we're doing. So I offer these, and I had this thought when I was thinking about these topics, for the talk, that a Sunday morning talk is like, really important, that's like a really showcase time for teaching the Dharma. And I have to really kind of come and show up with something profound and big. And just talking about one thing at a time and consistencies, just like a small thing. And, you know, not so weighty or serious or important or something like that. So that thought went through my mind for a moment, something like that. And I thought to myself, no, Gil, it might seem that way. But that's a mirage, that's a trick of the mind that these, this is actually huge, the important Dharma topic hugely valuable in our lives. To practice with, from time to time through the day, it doesn't have to be all the time. But to practice periodically, through the day, is learning to just do one thing at a time, just do it fully. Learn what it's like to do something fully and with embodied presence with full attention, gathered in just kind of oneness with a carrot, become the carrot become the chopping, as fully there for that, as you would be fully absorbed in reading a really good book. And, and really kind of just do this. And consistency. Keep it up, keep doing the practice, day in and day out. Just keep that going. And I'll finally end with I think, hopefully a little inspiration around consistency. consistency of consistency of small steps of mindfulness stall, small movements of practice throughout the day, you pick it up and come back is that if you take two line make two lines that go off parallel for infinity, for they will never get closer parallel, never get further away, or closer together, they'll just be real parallel. But if you take one of them, it just gently nudge it in one direction, can be just barely perceptible. Because it has a long timeframe. To go and distance to go with this, these two lines, that little almost almost not perceptible. different angle of one of them means that over time, they get further and further further away until their distance is huge.
So there are two different lines for you, the trajectory of your life. There's the way you're going without practice, and the way you're going with doing practice of mindfulness and Buddhist practice. And if you can just nudge and if they're not you are the practice want to be little bit more, just give yourself a little bit more fully to it. You might not feel the difference today and tomorrow, next week or even next month. But eventually the line will go off more and more and more. And the difference between just living your life as you normally do, and living your life with practice. Eventually, you'll see Wow, this has become a really two different things. And you're so glad that you nudged yourself more and more in the direction of practice. So even if you nudge yourself to do one thing at a time more often and being more consistent. The line will line towards freedom will grow.
So thank you all very much and very nice. Nice to be able to share this with you