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The Essence of Quality
By Aaron Hoopes
The attitude we take towards any task or undertaking reflects on how we view the self. The completed task is the outward image of our self. A task done with quality and completeness corresponds to a quality and completeness within. A task half-finished or done sloppily reflects an inner sloppiness. The importance of the task is irrelevant with regard to the quality and completeness with which we undertake it. Whether we are doing life-saving surgery, writing a book, washing the dishes, or tying our shoes, we need to focus all of our attention and concentration on that action. In effect, we want to enter into the essence of it.
By entering into the essence of something, I mean becoming one with the action we are performing. In Japan there is a word shoshin, which means “Beginner’s Mind.” As a beginner, the first time you do something you have to concentrate on it in order to do it correctly, but as you become adept at it, you soon stop paying attention to the doing of it. The idea of shoshin is to retain the mindfulness of the beginner, even as the task becomes routine. In this manner you are able to enter into the essence of what you are doing, and that makes all the difference. Doing anything without entering into its essence is pointless and empty. However, the more fully you enter into something, keeping mindful of it, the more point or meaning it has and the more alive you feel by doing it. Musicians, dancers, or artists who are able to enter into the essence of their art become their art -- they transcend the doing and are just being. By entering into the essence of your daily tasks you can begin to wake up to the great secret of life – living. The quality of living that results from entering into the essence of everyday life is profound. By entering into the essence of things, it is possible to become one with the creative principle of the Universal Mind. Only by actually being mindful of what we are doing can we reach that goal.
It is very simple to bring the essence of quality into all of your daily tasks. The next time you have to do a boring job, try to change your attitude about it and make it the most important task of the day. If you are washing the dishes, work to make each dish as spotless and perfectly clean as possible. Let the job you do reflect on the completeness within you. Keep in mind the concept of shoshin. If you have to clean the kitty litter, approach it as if it is the first time you have ever done it. Don’t be thinking about the book you want to read or going bird-watching. Think about cleaning out the kitty litter. When it is done, then move on to the next experience and enter into it just as fully. Whether you are vacuuming the floor, brushing your teeth, driving, or eating makes no difference. What matters is to keep mindful of the quality with which you are doing it and the degree to which you live it. Practice entering into something at least once a day. Focus on executing the task with the utmost care and completeness. Gradually begin to practice this with other things you do, each and every time you do them. Recognize the existence of your complete self in everything you do no matter how important or trivial it may be.
“Surely,” you say, “I won’t accomplish anything if every habitual action has to be done with quality.”
On the contrary, you will accomplish everything. It will take you seven seconds to tie your shoes whether you are mindful of it or not. Why not spend those seven seconds entering into the essence of tying your shoes? Habitual, mechanical action allows the autopilot to control you. Mindful action allows your Universal Mind to create true quality from within. Understand that by entering into the essence of something you don’t forcefully impose yourself on what you are doing or give it more importance than it deserves. Just become more fully aware of everything you do and live it.
An excellent way of becoming mindful of your actions is doing a simple task in a completely new way. Life is filled with habitual, unconscious and mechanical behaviors which you do without thinking and are hardly aware of. You don’t enter into the essence of these tasks because you believe they are much too routine, automatic, and boring to be worthy of your attention. What can you do to intensify your awareness of what you are doing – to be more mindful of the tasks you undertake - and enhance the quality of the routine behaviors which are so omnipresent in your life? You need a way to apply the idea of shoshin. Challenging yourself to do simple tasks differently will help you become more fully aware of entering into the essence of the task.
Most people have one hand that is more dominant than the other. Write your name with your normally dominant hand. Now try to write your name at the same speed with your other hand. Most likely the latter is much more difficult and the writing ends up a mess. Now write your name once more with your opposite hand, taking your time and going as slowly as you need to. Remember the idea of beginner mind and the need to concentrate on what you are doing. Relax your grip on the pen and slow your breathing. Grasp the pen lightly, there is no need for force or tension. As you practice, the writing should become easier and the result more legible. The next step is to make a conscious decision to use the opposite hand to carry out as many other simple daily tasks as possible. When brushing your teeth, combing your hair, buttering your toast, answering the phone, picking up books, or even clicking the TV remote, remember to try to use the opposite hand. Force yourself out of the habitual, mechanical and unconscious behaviors, pay attention, and make each action the center of focus.
Gradually you will begin to notice a difference in the way you go about your normal tasks. Having to slow down and concentrate makes each task take on more importance. This is the meaning of entering into the essence of something. By concentrating on the task, you naturally bring quality to it, and its completeness reflects the growing completeness of your being.
As you grow more adept at this, begin to challenge yourself further. Once your opposite hand is able to do simple tasks, try to do more complicated ones such as tying your shoes with the opposite hand leading, or manipulating the computer mouse. You could even try games such as playing tennis or Ping-Pong if you can find someone willing to put up with you.
By learning to understand how you think, you can become aware of your thought process. By remembering to be aware of yourself, you begin to learn how to engage in living life as it occurs. By slowing down and experiencing what silence has to offer, you begin to gain control of your mind. And by entering into the essence of things you do and concentrating on the quality of your actions you begin to sense something more universal. All of this is drawing you towards a sense of peace within yourself.
Hoopes is the founder of Zen Yoga. He has over twenty years experience
in the martial arts and yoga and Eastern healing methods. He has lived
and trained in Japan and Australia. He is the author of Perfecting Ourselves:
Coordinating Body, Mind and Spirit and Breathe Smart: The Secret to Happiness,
Health and Long Life. He has also created the deep relaxation/guided meditation
CD Inner Sunrise. He teaches Zen Yoga: The Art of Breathing, Stretching,
Moving and Relaxing to his students around the world. From children to
seniors - his teachings are accessible to all. For more information visit
his website at www.artofzenyoga.com
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