One Thing at a Time, an essay by Andrew Olendzki [from his collection, Unlimiting Mind, published by Wisdom Publications/Boston]
Continued from the previous post…
Our contemporary view of consciousness is so different from this (unified, stable, luminous and attentive), so much less. It is as if the accomplishment of mere tasks is of primary value, while the quality of awareness with which these tasks are undertaken is irrelevant. One can hurtle through the day doing this, that, and the other thing, often simultaneously, with great busyness and pressure, only to relax in the evening by trying to keep up with images that flash across the screen multiple times per second. For many of us, the deep states of tranquil alertness of which the mind is capable are entirely unknown.
Yes, the chattering, cavorting, cacophonous monkey mind is capable of clever deeds and great mischief, and these things are not entirely without value. But the mind is also capable of settling down, gathering its power, and turning its gaze upon itself, and in such instances it can come to know itself deeply. Buddhists call this gaining wisdom, and this too is a valuable thing to do.
More importantly, perhaps, it is a healthy thing to do. It is now well known that a restful body is healthier than a body in constant states of stress. It is becoming better known that a restul mind is more healthy than a mind beset with anxiety, compulsion, addiction, and other agitating states. It may even turn out to be the case that a restful society is healthier than one beset with tension, prejudice, exploitation, and war. I hope we have a chance to find out some day.
Meanwhile, peace is accessible. This too is an empirically demonstrable fact: try turning off the radio, the phone, the computer, and the TV; sit comfortably in a quiet place, relaxing the body and mind; mindfully breathing in, mindfully breathing out, and abandon – just for now – any thought or response that tends to disburse and divide your awareness. Let go, for the moment, the impulse for sensory gratification, hold off annoyance towards what you don’t like, settle down any restlessness in mind and body, stir up energy when you feel sluggish, and postpone thinking over any doubts you may have. As you do this successfully for several moments is a row, you will find the mind gradually becoming more tranquil, more focused, more clear, and more powerful. The Buddha might have said, “I know of no single thing more healthy than than doing one thing at a time”.