This winter I have found myself being particularly busy with a number projects to do and duties to keep in balance and I am reminded of my enjoyment of juggling. Working meditation is how we bring the mind of meditation to our daily activities, like in sitting meditation we just drop whatever we are distracted with and return to just sitting, we can also use each activity of our day as a sort of anchor to return to when we notice we are distracted from what needs to be done. When I was taught to do working meditation, I was taught that it is helpful to do just one thing at a time and to bring my full attention to that thing. This always seemed a little vexing since I was making my living as a cook in a busy kitchen at the time and I didn’t have the luxury to do things “one thing at a time” in a linear fashion. Even when I worked in the monastery kitchen at Shasta Abbey, this linear way of thinking about “one thing at a time” was turned on its ear.
I must say though that bringing the mind of meditation to my work has been one of the most fruitful ways practice has helped me. When I was a cook, it occurred to me that an interesting thing about juggling a number of objects is that, in a sense a juggler is only doing one thing at a time: catch, throw, catch, throw. (Flip the eggs, stir the spuds, set up the plates, start an omelette, etc.) The body is physically doing one thing and the mind is aware and still, in unity with the body. In the writing of great Master Bankei, there is a description of a woman sewing and chatting with her friends and Bankei says she can do this because she is not in conflict with her own Buddha nature, she hasn’t divided her mind into two or more things.
As tasks mount up and time seems to run short, I find myself going into a kind of distraction or split when I resist circumstances or doubt my basic unity, and part of my own internal practice is learning how to identify this resistance and to let it go. When I can do this, things look different. It is not that I magically become able to do more, although without the resistance I do seem to get what needs doing done, it is more that I seem to be better able to accept circumstances as they are and work with them in a more creative way.
We are, of course, human beings with a limited capacity to do things within the confines of what our human body can do (and what it needs, including appropriate rest and rejuvenation) and the time we may have. By focusing our minds through practice, and taking up one thing at a time, we can clarify what, in a grounded sort of way, organic to us, it is that we actually need to be doing in our lives. We can begin to clarify where we divert our energies and attention into the unnecessary.