Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How Noticing Changes Things

I am practicing being present with myself and the world. I am moving a little slower than usual, noticing what is happening within and around me: eating without listening to the radio or watching anything on the computer; walking with awareness of the movement of my body, the shifting of weight, the feel of the sidewalk or floor beneath me; pausing in my apartment or on the street when I feel myself moving away from the moment and all it holds, waiting until I am present before I resume the task I am doing.

And one of the things I notice is where, without conscious choice, I move away from awareness. I spend the day consciously with my breath and being as I meditate and pray and do my yoga, as I prepare my food and wash my dishes, as I write. But then, moving to update my financial books, I feel myself shift gears, disconnect from my own moment-by-moment experience, pull up some energy from deep within me for the task in front of me.

And I wonder: what is it about this task, about writing numbers in columns and adding figures that I unconsciously assume requires that I move away from awareness? I want to turn the radio on and listen to the news or find a podcast that will entertain me while I do the books. Why? Because I don’t particularly like this task. I do it because it has to be done. But I don’t really dislike doing it either, although I anticipate possible problems and small irritations- forgotten receipts, missed entries that must be tracked to make the totals come out right. So what? So, . . . . it seems I want to get it done but do not want to be present for the doing.

No big deal really, and there’s nothing wrong with listening to a podcast while I do the books. But I’m curious to see what happens if I choose to be present with even this task. If I cannot practice being present for something as mildly challenging as a less-than-exciting task, what hope do I have of bringing my full sustained attention to situations that are truly painful- a searing headache, the grief of a friend, news of violence in the world, the challenges of caring for two parents with Alzheimer’s?

The trouble with being absent from even this moment, is that it too quickly becomes a habit, something I hardly notice, something that easily begins to feel “normal,” difficult to drop and an impediment to remembering to bring myself back to mindfulness. A structured daily practice helps me remember, brings me back to the moment, my breath and what is, but the point of such a practice is not to offer an hour of presence before I go back to preoccupation and a lack of awareness. The point, the intent, is to increase my ability to be present with it all- inner and outer conditions that are ever changing and the still center that remains constant.

So, I’m grateful to have noticed the kind of task- mundane, repetitive, and not particularly creative or entertaining- where I move away from being present. And I find that when I catch myself and stay here fully, the task is. . . just a task.

And then it becomes something more. I find myself grateful for having the means to purchase what is needed, (thus the receipts that need to be recorded,) some income that can be taxed for the collective caretaking of my community, the ability to do my own books and take care of this small aspect of keeping life and limb together.

Where there was a flicker of irritation, a desire for distraction, there is the gift of gratitude- not reached for, but found simply by being present.


  1. I had to read it three times, but I finally got it. lizzie

  2. This was completely what I needed to reflect upon. Many thanks for allowing your experiences to touch others.

  3. Somewhere I read a remark by Thich Nhat Hanh, that it is nearly impossible even for him, a long trained Buddhist monk, to stay present when writing one of his books, while it is no problem for him to be present when binding it. He explained it with the mental absorption during writing. Perhaps there's a parallel to you doing your books.
    TNH used this example for consoling those who have an office job and find it extremely difficult to keep their awareness during working hours and hours at the computer. Your brain can do a lot at the same time, but obviously not really concentrating on two things that are so similar. Just my two pence.

  4. Hi Oriah, I read your post this morning today as I try to calm my mind and get myself to be present with all the work I'm facing. The inconvenience of it all and the helplessness I'm feeling because of lack of answers.

  5. You written superb and best quotation on it. I found many interesting things, especially in your blog discussions. Nearly every write-up which you create is gold.

  6. Thank you for highlighting my own habit of switching off when I go to spreadsheets, detailed planning, and even the simplest things like grocery lists! It so easily becomes habitual, and I hadn't even thought about that beyond that it seemed too hard to be present at those times.