How to reach enlightenment

orange

Well. The fun part of naming a blog post in such a manner is that it is everything and at the same time nothing. Just like everything else about Zen, it is everything and nothing. The search for enlightenment is a life’s practice for some, while for others it is virtually meaningless. It is, however, tied to meditation.

And meditation, well. It is simply a training of one’s mental attention, isn’t it? Interesting that you can train your mental attention — your very concentration. And yet meditation can awaken us beyond our conditioned mind and habitual energies, revealing to us the true nature of reality through presence.

The classic image is that of a learned yogi sitting for hours on end, chanting his mantra as incense burns nearby. While this is a very beautiful way to experience the wonder of meditation, and may in fact reveal more than any other method, it is not the only way. And let’s face it: this method is not going to fly off the shelves for most Westerners. We like multi-tasking. We like to check things off the list. Sitting quietly, not doing anything for great lengths of time is not something we are going to put at the center of our daily routine. We have meetings to go to and things to check off. We are very busy!

Here is the good news: there are ways to receive the benefit of meditation that take only a few minutes out of your day. You don’t even have to sit down. Best of all, for us modern consumers, the benefit takes effect instantly.

I’m referring to mindfulness, a clear recognition of what is happening here and now. It refers to being present, being fully where you are at any given moment. It is being at the beach when you are at the beach – not thinking about tomorrow or yesterday or anything at all except what is right in the present moment. You can do it anywhere and everywhere. Taking the time each day to sit in meditation is more powerful than I can explain, but if you start with simple mindfulness, you might be convinced to try a little more once you are farther down the road.

So, you can eat an orange mindfully – how hard is it to concentrate on an orange for a few moments? The bright color, the juice hidden in each section, the oil in the peel, and the fresh flavor in your mouth. Every time you find your mind wandering away, come back to concentrating on the orange. If you like, you can imagine the tree it grew on, and the seed deep in the earth from which the tree grew. Notice the way the peel may come away in a curlicue or in great chunks. And, by the time the orange has been consumed, you have taken a mindfulness break, and you may well feel a certain refreshment. Next time, perhaps you will wash the dishes mindfully or focus your awareness on your breathing for three breaths.

The greatest thing about mindfulness for me is that the past and the future are not there. There is only the here and the now. Eventually, you can train your concentration to meditate even when something big is weighing heavily on your mind. During times of great anxiety or deep sadness, it is a miracle to be able to take a breather. To stop, put down the heavy load, and just be.

We who are always doing need to learn the art of being. We can benefit from learning how to stop, to calm ourselves, to rest and to heal. And when we practice being — whether or not we achieve enlightenment — we can go to places hitherto only dreamed of.

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