Every day you think you’re paying attention to whatever it is you’re doing. But you’re not. You’re judging. You’re not seeing reality as it is. You’re barely aware of what’s in front of you. Even when you’re doing things like driving a car, you’re lost in the stories in your head. There’s a part of you that’s driving. But a big part of you is somewhere else.
Unless you encounter something for the first time, you’re not giving it you’re fullest attention. You’re not experiencing the freshness of ever-changing circumstances. You’re only experiencing a fraction of what’s in front of you, with a healthy serving of old fears and fabricated expectations mixed in. Whatever attention you may be giving to the situation, it is being hijacked and distorted by your judgments.
Try a simple exercise. Pour yourself a glass of water. It can be from a pitcher, the kitchen faucet, or refrigerator dispenser. Now pay attention to the water pouring into the glass. How long does it take? Five to seven seconds maybe? Are you able to pay attention to the water pouring? Or do judgments take you out of it? Unless you’re a Zen master, you probably have all kinds of opinions flying through your head. Why is it taking so long? Or, I can’t wait to drink the water. Or I’m dreading the report that’s due for work tomorrow. You can’t even pour yourself a glass of water for a few seconds without judgments clouding your vision of what’s in front of you.
Now try the exercise again. Pour yourself another glass of water. But this time, really experience the water. Give it your fullest attention. If you’re really attentive, your thoughts should be of a completely different nature. Look how smooth the stream of pouring water is. Look at all those bubbles and swirls. The water is crystal clear.
There, you’ve done it. You’ve experienced reality as it is, without the filter of your judgments. Life is happening and you’re connected to the happening.
There is nothing complicated here. It’s not magic. Experiencing what’s in front of you is a muscle that can be exercised just like anything else. Listening, too, is a muscle you may not realize you can improve upon.
Notice that you’re not just a passive observer in the pouring water. You’re an active participant. You are connected to your circumstance, alert to what it is saying to you. If the situation isn’t saying anything, that’s ok, too. Then you don’t need to take action. But when it tells you what to do, you know it. You’re not generating ideas. You’re receiving them. That’s when you take clear action. In this simple example, when the water reaches the top of the glass, you know to stop pouring. But if you were deeply lost in mental stories, you might even miss that.
You can perform a lot of actions with only part of your attention there. But it’s not a question of how little attention can you give to still be able to perform a task. The question is how does your experience suffer, and how effective is the action you take when your attention is not fully there?
Any action you take as a result of seeing a situation clearly is clear action. When you judge something, you’re not seeing it clearly, because you’re not fully there. When you’re not fully there, you’re not fully you.
Practice experiencing reality with small things. Like when you’re brushing your teeth, your attention is with the reality of your brush and toothpaste on your teeth. When you’re eating, experience the reality of eating your food. When you experience unfiltered reality, everyday activities come to life. You experience them in higher resolution. Little by little, your whole life gets a makeover. Things feel shinier. People respond to you more positively. You start to find joy in the pure experience of things. When you experience the reality in front of you, life comes to life.
How real are you?