One of the key principles in philosophical Taoism is wu wei -- loosely translated as "go with the flow." Both Laozi and Zhuangzi urge us toward genuine spontaneity and learning to live in the moment. In some ways, this general idea has sort of a hippie-like ring to it: Peace, Love and Rock 'n Roll.
But there is another aspect to it as well. To be truly spontaneous, we must concurrently be disciplined and focused. If we don't pay attention to what we are doing, scads of opportunities will pass us by and we will be none the wiser.
As so often happens in our lives, the lesson of mindfulness is best learned from situations in which we allow our attention to become divided. I relearned this lesson earlier today.
I spent the later morning cutting up a variety of vegetables for a soup I planned to eat at supper. I included ample amounts of carrots, parsnips, celery root, mushrooms, red pepper, leek and a large red potato. I placed these items in my soup pot with an adequate amount of water, a vegetarian vegetable bouillon cube and a complement of spices and seasonings. I set the temperature of my electric stove on medium high.
Remembering that my brother told me yesterday that my favorite uncle had been in the hospital with a severe bout of pneumonia, I decided to call Uncle Gene in Arkansas. He reported that, in the beginning of his illness, it was touch-and-go, but he is doing much better now. Since we hadn't talked for several months, we had a lot of catching up to do.
We talked and talked and talked. At about the 45 minute mark, I realized I had completely forgotten that I had a soup pot on the stove. I grabbed my cordless phone, while still talking with my uncle, and raced downstairs. To my horror, all the water had been boiled out of the soup pot and the vegetables were burnt. I had to throw the whole mess out and I will need to scrub the burned vegetables off of the bottom of the pan.
While I had a great conversation with Uncle Gene, this distraction diverted my attention from making good soup. If I had been more mindful of what I was trying to accomplish, I could have waited to call Uncle Gene once the soup had gotten to the point I could set the burner on simmer OR I simply could have turned down the burner while making the call and turned it back up once the call was finished. I didn't do either, so I now must come up with something different for supper.
I am in no way suggesting that a person can't accomplish two or more tasks simultaneously. But to be successful, a person must be mindful of the task[s] at hand. In this case, I wasn't.
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.