By Martin Faulks
I was once one of a number of guests in a Buddhist monastery from a tradition that had vastly different practices than I had ever witnessed before. The whole routine of daily life was new and everything was directed with great precision. In this tradition were ritual movements and words for almost every aspect of life. Specific routines to open the temple in the morning, to approach the altar, to go to your meditation spot, to eat, to meet your teacher. Indeed their whole approach seemed to be through the practice of ritual awareness.
During the first few hours of our stay, most of us were getting to know the other practitioners, talking to each other and generally just settling in.
All of us except one practitioner that is. One lone monk in a worn-out black Zen robe that was so faded that it was almost grey in colour sat away from the others in the main hall in still observation. He just sat in silence and watched with great interest at everything that was going on. I spent some time there and I noticed how attentive the practitioner was. He watched the fine movement of others performing the ritual and I noticed he mouthed along with every word that was performed during the ceremony.
I was the only person who was intrigued or indeed seemed to be aware of our very aware friend as other practitioners continued to talk and compare their different traditions and practices.
Our grey-robed friend sat like this for two days in a row, he seemed really fascinated by everything as if every moment was a joy to behold and precious to learn from.
Then, on the third day something amazing happened, he stopped watching and began doing! He just blended in with everyone who actually lived in the monastery performing everything the way they did it with precision. While we were still finding the ropes he was sailing the ship!
I was really inspired by this and decided to spend as much time near this practitioner in order to find his secret. I discovered that they had taken a vow to practice a zen art called Ichigyo Zammai. An art that translates as “just one activity with your full focus.”
I was amazed to observe how powerful this simple practice was. A sense of skilful focus was in everything he did from the words he said to the way he cleaned or tidied up. Like all of us his focus did waver throughout the day but his worst was most people’s best.
The practice of doing “just one activity with your full focus” was not new to me and is not exclusive to Zen Buddhism. Franz Bardon calls this “Thought Control”. In Yoga, it’s called ‘’Ekagrata’’. Indeed it’s a practice we see in almost all traditions from western stoicism to Chinese Confucianism.
I however, had not realised the whole potential of the practice and found myself taking a vow to practice this art to the highest of my ability.
How do you do it?
The truth is that Ichigyo Zammai is nothing special. It’s really a simple practice of remembering to breathe with awareness and settle into the present at the beginning of each activity. Then, as we go through the activity, we commit ourselves to being completely present, and we decline the myriad of opportunities to be distracted and diffused. Gently and joyfully, we keep returning to our present moment, no matter how many times our mind takes us somewhere else.
Close your eye for a moment and imagine what a life of this practice could be like.
Picture an existence in which when you rest, you fully rest with the whole of your being, when you speak to you completely engage with the person and use your empathy, eloquence and thoughtfulness to communicate what you wish you say. When you are at work you really dedicate yourself to skillfully and masterfully accomplishing your task. When you make love you do so with your whole being.
Let us see how this practice that leads to fully embracing life can be applied.
Here are some tips that may help you perfect this art.
Principles of Practice
- Apply Meditation Disciplines To What You Are Doing
The key to this practice is to apply all the lessons you have learned from your meditation practice to your life. If you are yet to undertake a meditation practise then it would be very good to do so. The reason being as you sit in a state of higher focused awareness, this will become part of the rest of your day.
- Good Preparation
Make sure that before you start a task you gather everything together that would aid you in the process and that you have prepared or found the best environment for success. This will ensure you can get into the flow and apply yourself to your best ability.
- Plan Things Out
When you do something make sure you start off by formulating a plan. The planning stage is always worth just visiting even if it is something that you have done many times before. Be open-minded and be aware that circumstances change and that this time there may be a better way of doing things than previously. Just take a moment to think about how often a lack of planning leads to extra work or mistakes even in the simplest of jobs.
Have you ever started cleaning leaves only to realise halfway through you needed rubbish bags? Have you ever started painting a wall and forgotten to prepare the area? Only later to once dripping paint is everywhere do you protect the carpets or put on overalls? Proper planning not only aids you in finding the best way of doing things but also allows a correct and powerful rehearsal in your mind.
- Have Set Times For Different Things
Make sure you have specific work times and times you are completely off-duty. It’s very important to have specific times for specific activities and a good work-life balance. This gives a clear indication to your subconscious mind and informs those around you what you are involved in at any given time. The more you keep to this, you will find a reduction in both inner and outer distractions throughout your day.
- No Multitasking
This one can be quite hard, to begin with, but aim to only do one thing at a time with full focus. You may feel like multitasking is a way to be more efficient but as you continue with this practice you will discover this has not been true. Indeed soon you will discover that by having a full focus on each task in turn, you work so much more efficiently, powerfully and skillfully that you free up a tremendous amount of time in your life.
- Take Away The Supports To Concentration
You probably have all sorts of practices in place to help you with your concentration. Phoning a friend while you tidy. Playing music when you answer emails. These have served you in the past to help cover up your inability to concentrate fully. Now however it’s time to start improving how you do things and becoming a master of genuine focus. Throw away your crutches and walk.
- Always Seek to Improve
Have you ever noticed that when people practice something with the intent to get better there they make far more progress than when they just go through the motions? Just think of how many people have the same job doing the same tasks eight hours a day for years on end and still make the same mistakes? Now, it’s time for you to approach all activities with the same intention – to improve. Nothing is trivial anymore. When you cut vegetables for cooking, practice with the precision of someone who is learning to use a sword in combat. When you sign your signature, use this as a calligraphy lesson. Every moment from now on you will be improving and evolving.
- Truly Engage With The Purpose And Experience
Your goal is to work as a fully integrated harmonious whole. So whatever you do, put your heart into it as well as your mind. If you have decided to do something then make sure you give it your full engagement. This includes all activities in life, such as entertainment, socialising or playing with your pets or children. If you are going to do something you may as well do it with a positive attitude and with emotional engagement.
- Keep On The Task In Hand
If when engaged in one activity you find something that comes to mind that needs to be done then make sure you have a notepad or a to-do list you can add it to. Use this as a strategy to quickly schedule it in for later rather than becoming distracted and misdirected. Exceptions to this rule should only apply in situations of emergency or when exceptional opportunities arise that are time-sensitive.
- Embrace the Challenge
Your attitude towards what you are doing needs to be positive. Learn to thrive when faced with challenges. It is important to remember that a lot of things in life are about how you view them. People pay a lot of money to go to the gym but shun hard work in the garden. Just as a schoolboy is given lines as punishment, so too does an adult pay for calligraphy lessons repeating the same writing exercises again and again. Let go of this confusion and turn all situations to your advantage.
When there is a maths problem that needs solving don’t use a calculator but rather work it out in your head. When you have driven a route a few times start doing it without sat nav. Why not take the stairs rather than the lift and improve your foot speed and cardiovascular ability? This is the way to keep all your abilities into your old age and remain healthy.
- Get In The Right State of Mind
You may notice that experts in particular areas have specific routines they use to get focussed and ready. Make sure that you learn how you get into the correct state of mind for the job in hand and make this part of your routine. For me, just taking a few moments before I start a task to really focus on and imagine the outcome I am seeking has a very powerful effect on the whole process.
- Good Posture
Your mind and your body are one. It’s very important that your posture reflects what you are going to do. How you sit, stand or lie really changes how you feel and function. Be aware of your posture and make sure it’s good with the correct alignment. Use this as part of your one-pointed practice.
Words can often be a replacement for activity or engagement and become devalued if used too much. Keep that heat inside, direct that passion into actions. If you want to seem impressive, be impressive, if you want to express kindness, do it with actions, not words.
- Time Yourself
It can be good to set yourself a time limit for each of your undertakings. This gives you a set time of focus and allows you to monitor your progress and ability.
It’s also very important that you create better and better habits. So make sure you set your tasks to slowly extend your concentration span. If you push past this and fight through tiredness or despondency you start to train poor ways of doing things and bad associations.
- Recovery Is The Start of Discipline
To ensure that you are able to apply your full ability you need to be honest about your recovery and energy levels. Good rest, sleep and regenerative exercise are the most important practices you have as everything else builds on them. With this in place, you will be able to evolve your mind to the degree that in emergencies when you need to work through tiredness you will be able to do so with ease.
- Have Good Intentions
It’s fantastic to use all your knowledge, creativity, emotional connection and skillfulness in all that you do but I have found something else is needed for full focus. We need to be at one. Everyone needs to find their own key to oneness. For me, a focus on Bringing about good outcomes for all shines a light on everything I do and opens my ability to be aware of and work with the flow of the universe. Perhaps this will also be the key for you.
- If not now when?
Often we put our perfection off into the future. It’s a way of being lazy and pretending to ourselves that we are not taking a shortcut. It feels more okay to delay something than to admit that we are deliberately and wilfully being weak, foolish and inefficient.
the diet always starts tomorrow. We are going to be more kind to people when we are less stressed. We will fully apply ourselves next month when we have less on.
You only have this moment. That is all. If you don’t live to your full potential now when will it be?
Enlightenment is in this very moment only if you choose to embrace it. Live every moment as the person you truly wish to be. Apply the lessons of the art of one thing now.
The Benefits This Art Brings
- Brings abilities from meditation into life
Sometimes when we train for a perfect focus in seated meditation this does not transfer into emotional control and better skilful living. This practice will help to transfer the abilities you have gained in your meditation practice into your daily life.
- Purifies Your heart.
Full focus brings to the surface what your true goals and motives are and allows you to see your conflicts and resistance and harmonise them.
- Shows You What You Really Enjoy.
Often multitasking is used to cover up disinterest or dislike of something. When you let go of this the truth is revealed.
- Helps You Improve On An Ongoing Basis
Often people get into a routine with things and stop thinking in terms of how better to do what they do every day. Forgetting that it’s often better to focus on quality than quantity and find better, more efficient, and skilful ways of doing things.
- Achieve So Much More In Your Time.
You may be amazed by how much more you achieve if you focus fully on the task in hand. Often you are defusing your effort and working far more hours than you would need. For example, I have found that using this approach I can answer more emails with greater accuracy and better outcomes in an hour than previously I would in three.
- Skills And Abilities Cross-Pollinate
Do you remember how I mentioned chopping vegetables with the accuracy of Samurai sword practice? In Zen, it is said that a master of the art on one thing will become a master of all arts. This is because improvement through full engagement makes every moment of your life training. Just think how the person who has always really fully engaged with playing with their children or pets might have very quick responses. Imagine the person who really tries to be quiet when others sleep would be a master of stealth. If you really practice this art you develop a talent for being talented at things.
- Improves Memory
This practice aids the development of good memory in many ways. Being fully focused makes the mindfully engage so memory is stored clearly with a strong impression. Full engagement means that you use your memory a lot more than most people searching for what has worked before or what you have observed.
- Brings Joy
When you fully engage with your heart and focus, it turns a potentially boring and devalued task into something that is worthy of attention and something that brings enjoyment. In the past, you may have used all sorts of tricks to try to bring enjoyment to things. Videos in the background, a nice drink etc. I promise that if you put these things away and really engage you will find more joy in the actual task than you ever thought possible.
- Develops Higher Abilities
This is a very unspoken aspect of the training but is most important for a practitioner. In our training, we develop our abilities and hone our senses. Training however is just that, it’s a rehearsal for use.
If you practise one thing at a time correctly you will find you naturally start to apply yourself in a way that pulls on the whole of your potential. When you meet someone you tune into their energy and use your intuition. As you speak your words have power because they carry truth and intention. When you tidy a room you remove all negative influences in the underlying energy. Soon every act becomes magical. The locking of your door becomes a protection to the house, a kiss on the cheek good night a blessing that heals and restores during sleep. Genuine engagement with the world will lead you to contact with the hidden forces that underpin the universe. Constant elevation of your awareness will lead to higher consciousness.
Because in every moment you engage with an aim to see more, to bring more and to connect in harmony, great powers will reveal themselves to you.