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Attention, Mindfulness, and Emails

Photo by Linh Le on Unsplash

During our time in Kyoto, we had the privilege of witnessing a traditional tea ceremony. As I observed the meticulous tea preparation process, I was captivated by its simplicity and elegance. We also delved into the world of calligraphy and ikebana, where the precision and artistry of these practices left a lasting impression. 

Ikebana, for example, involves several stages. In each, you consider the material you have closely and make decisions. For instance, you need to decide which specific flowers or branches to use for each of the three main elements and which you want to use for the “subordinate” elements. The longest main element needs to be about 1.5 the length of the basin you use. The second longest flower needs to be about two-thirds of the longest flower, and so on. The teacher also explained that we must consider the location of the arrangement. If it sits on a table, then all sides of it should be equally pretty. If it sits against a wall, you need to place the flower so that its pretties side faces the front.

This is not something you do while listening to an audiobook or a podcast. When we attended the tea ceremony, I found some similarities. Much of the ceremony intends to ensure that the water is the right temperature, that the bowl is clean, that sort of thing. Again, there is this attention to detail that you can’t give if you’re making tea while chatting or watching TV. 

For about a week after we returned home, I carried this attention to every little thing I did with me. I didn’t pull my phone out of my pocket while the water was boiling or put on a podcast while doing the dishes. Slowly, life returned to its usual, hectic pace. I felt like there were too many things I needed to do: too many emails, too many podcasts on my listening list, too many books on my TBR list. So, I’m back to peeking at emails while the water boils and listening to a podcast while doing the dishes. 

I get more done this way, no question. But I was more mindful before. I’ve been meditating for years, but I still struggle with being mindful throughout the day. And I feel like I’ve made more progress with that in the ten days I spent in Japan than in years of meditation and mindfulness app-using. I’m also not entirely sure how to solve this. I want to do all those things. I want to read all these books. I want to be on top of emails. And I wonder whether that is the quintessential “human problem”: wanting to do more than we have time for. Or, in other words, knowing we have a limited time on this earth and we better get cracking. 

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