Not too long ago, my yoga teacher had one of those ah-ha! moments in the shower. She was shaving her legs, had no idea that she was shaving her legs, and then realized she had no idea what she was doing. She shared the experience during class that evening as an example of the disconnect between mind and body that plagues many of us.
It is classic Thich Nhat Hanh – you wash the dishes not to get them clean, but to wash the dishes. The point is that we should always strive to be in this very moment, not absorbed by the end-goal of our actions, but instead engaged in this specific, exact frame of reality. All too often, our lack of mindfulness causes us to lose this frame, and then the next, and so on, until we are missing out on the here-and-now, which is the only thing we really have in the first place.
But what happens when we not only lose track of mindfulness, but we also carry out actions without a clear sense of intent? Are the two related?
Last weekend, I spent the better part of two hours preparing dinner, cutting up fresh ingredients and carefully measuring spices and liquids, to celebrate Valentine’s Day at home. As I neared the point where dinner would be ready to go on the table, I burned myself after dropping a chicken breast in hot oil, which gave me quite a wake-up call. Looking back, I see that I was charging gung-ho into the actual cooking without any thought for how I would finish an entrée and two side dishes at the same time, so that everything could go onto the plate fresh and hot.
The more I think about it, I am conscious of the fact that I had absolutely no clear intent for preparing that meal. I literally did not think about what I wanted to accomplish, or how I wanted things to turn out: the task was suggested, and I blindly walked into it. Althought I wanted to cook dinner and enjoy a good meal with my partner, I was simply going through the motions rather than putting any amoung of thought into my actions. I was literally absent minded.
When I make decisions – good or bad – I sometimes think of outcomes, but rarely ask myself why I choose to take the action at the onset. And yet, the more I turn this over in my mind, it seems that having the proper intention, or even knowing what my intent is in the first place, seems like such a basic component of mindfulness.
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