Cultivating Awareness
in Daily Life

5 of 5

The scope of awareness (continued)

One of the abiding challenges of daily practice is that it is not always clear what the proper object or scope of awareness should be. In formal meditation, the focus is intentionally circumscribed (the breath is often used in this way). But amid ordinary activity, especially in a world as complex as ours, vexing questions arise.

For example, is it enough to use electricity sparingly, when a fifth of our electricity comes from power plants that breed nuclear waste?

Another example: Many of us know something about the global marketing of Coca-Cola. Economist Juliet Schor describes how poor people are induced to spend their few pesos on soft drinks and fast food rather than more nutritious fare, a process that can lead to illness and malnutrition. Should that information be part of our awareness if we are about to drink a Coke?

Once when environmentalist Stephanie Kaza was practicing walking meditation outdoors during a retreat, she heard loud gear-grinding noises in the distance and recognized the sound of a logging truck. A lover of trees, she felt waves of alarm, helplessness, and grief. She also questioned herself about the role of mindfulness practice:

The forests! The forests!... I struggle with this slow walking, torn between acting and not acting. It seems like an indulgence to take the time to cultivate mindfulness when so much is being lost.

But this is the tension—to find a considered way of acting not based on reaction. Building a different kind of sanity requires a stable base for careful action. It means being willing to know all the dimensions of the reality of destruction, being willing to breathe with the tension of emotional response, being willing to cultivate tolerance for unresolved conflict. This nonverbal form of ethical deliberation depends on the careful work of paying attention to the whole thing.

Adepts in martial arts report that as they advance in skill, their peripheral vision also improves. In a similar way, mindfulness can always be broadened and deepened, whatever the circumstances.

"Be here now" seems straightforward enough, at first. Yet the present moment also shields a mystery in its heart. What does it really mean to enter deeply into the present? Are we able to see through the present to the timeless? Although language hits its limits here, the ultimate "object" of true awareness is Buddha nature itself, or any equivalent term for Reality. The pissing horse let Basho in on this secret, and Basho kindly shared it with us.