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In Japan, there was once an old monk who lived alone in a small meditation hermitage in the mountains. He went about his daily chores with a careful grace that reflected his inner peace and clarity. He had, however, one peculiarity. Every now and then, for no apparent reason, he called out his own name. By this simple action, it is taught, he brought himself back into the present moment, re-establishing awareness whenever he noticed that his mind had drifted him into forgetfulness.
Although it is not necessary for us to adopt that monk's method of practice, this story illustrates the obstacle we face when we try to arouse awareness in daily life. Though we may sincerely aspire to be awake in every moment, doing so is difficult because of the power of habit and forgetfulness. Therefore, rather than expecting to achieve continuous awareness immediately, we begin by developing awareness around a small number of routine tasks. Then, as we become more skilled at maintaining awareness, we gradually incorporate more aspects of daily life into the practice of Conscious Living.
It is important to understand that to develop awareness in daily life we do not need to go around with an empty mind. Rather, we strive to be awake and centered in the present, clearly knowing at each moment what we are doing / thinking. For instance, if you are walking down the street to the bus stop, know that the body is walking. If thoughts, plans, or memories come into the mind, be aware of them. When you come to an intersection, you know it and can decide whether or not it is safe to cross.
Naturally, thoughts, plans, and memories may come up while we are engaged in an activity, but these need not be an obstacle to awareness. The obstacle of forgetfulness arises from our habitual tendency to get lost in a jungle of thoughts, one leading to another without conscious direction or purpose. If it is necessary to plan for the future, then by all means we should do so, and make the best plan possible. But we should plan for the future with awareness and clarity, rather than just by daydreaming.
Through the practice of Conscious Living, you come to realize that a good portion of thinking is habitual. The restless mind fills with idle chatter to keep it occupied because it does not know how to be at rest. Unfortunately, all this clutter stifles the mind, keeping it from developing important and meaningful insights. Through awareness, we can thin out the jungle of thoughts, discarding a lot of the trivial and useless chatter so that we can experience greater clarity.
When we are practicing Conscious Living, we still experience thinking, seeing, hearing, feeling, and other mental and physical activities, but we remain centered on whatever main activity we are involved in at that moment. When trivial thoughts come into the mind, we let them go, because there is something more important and meaningful for the mind to be involved in - the present experience. If something important comes up that needs to be thought about and it is a suitable time to be thinking about such things, then we can, of course, think about it. When we do, this new thought becomes the present activity for the light of awareness. Like sunshine, the light of awareness shines on each thing so that it becomes clear.
It's a good idea to begin your practice of Conscious Living by choosing to shine the light of awareness on four or five routine daily activities. Performing these simple tasks with awareness helps you develop a better appreciation for what the practice is trying to achieve. Here are a few suggestions for how to get started:
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