One of the things I love about movies is that every time you watch a really good movie you get something different out of it. I always find that depending on my mood and what’s going on in live the universe and everything, a different part of a movie will resonate with me or I might interpret something differently.
Recently I re-watched one of my favorite movies, Zen Noir. You’ve probably heard me mention it at least once. It’s a very tongue-in-cheek movie about a detective who goes to a Zen Temple to investigate a murder. In the film, Kim Chan plays the Zen master with a penchant for oranges and lime green foam lightsabers. He delivers a wonderful blend of crazy wisdom and out and out strangeness. Fair warning, this article may contain a spoiler or two so if you haven’t seen it, stop reading and go watch…then come back…I’ll wait.
There is one part that always gets to me. When the detective is about to totally lose his mind, the master relays to him a story from his childhood about eating an orange and getting a phone call about a tragedy. He then begins to describe how even though he is still eating the orange, all thought of it has been lost in the whirlwind of sadness. His master then shouts, “Are you going to freak out or eat orange? Pick one.”
The truth this points to is how often we aren’t really present to what we are doing. One of the big allures of mindfulness practice is to teach people how to really be with whatever they are doing. We tend to be either in the future, thinking about what is to come or what we want to be or we’re in the past, reliving what has already been. Often, it is a combination of the two.
There are so many things we do by rote. Even some very complicated tasks like driving a car. Now some of this is definitely helpful. Watching my son the other day attempt to crawl, I’m reminded of just how hard it would be to go about our daily lives if we had to think about all the intricate motions that go into walking. So being able to push certain things from the conscious mind can be helpful. This is also true of sensations. I have a friend who is a hypnotherapist who often helps clients deal with pain by having their mind treat the sensation as normal and therefore remove it from the lexicon of conscious sensation. Think about it. Do you feel your clothes without focusing your attention?
The downside of this is that by being in either the past or the future, we often miss much of the richness of what is happening right now. Often this is because we’re afraid that we won’t like what is really going on, so we replace it with a mental image rather than the truth. Shunryu Suzuki often spoke of beginner’s mind. This is the idea that we should experience our world and everything in it as if we have never seen or done it before. Imagine the richness of experience in the most basic things if we just stop and truly pay attention to them as we did when they were new. We get pulled away from the present moment and miss so much of our lives. Do you really notice the beauty of a warm sunny day or are you too busy thinking about your upcoming work project? What’s going through your mind during an intimate moment with your partner?
Through meditation and mindfulness, we can begin to train our minds to remain in the present moment and focus on just what is happening right now. It’s not easy, but it certainly can be cultivated by those with the persistence, patience, and determination. And the best part is that once you start to be fully present to your life, everything becomes that much more wonderful. Even something as simple as eating an orange can be a truly profound experience.
Try it for yourself. After you finish this article, take a few moments and just breathe. Notice the sensation at the tip of your nose as you breathe in. Feel the coolness of the air. Notice how your lungs expand and then contract with each in and out of the breath. Really paying attention to the simple act of breathing is the first step to being fully present for your life in each moment.