Nothing Left Over by Toinette Lippe


Nothing Left Over

by Toinette Lippe



Why Is Giving Attention So Important?

Giving others our complete attention is such a simple thing and yet we rarely remember to do it. Whether the person we are with is dying or living, this is always one of the greatest treasures we can give them.
It is only when you bring all your senses to bear on whatever you plan to do next that you will know how to proceed. We tend to approach most things with preconceived ideas. We carry forward whatever we noticed on earlier occasions in the belief that it will be very useful this time. In fact, there is an unspoken assumption that we do not really need to pay that much attention this time because “we’ve done it before.” But no two situations are exactly the same and such a habit can be very costly. Centuries ago Heraclitus pointed out that you cannot step twice into the same river, and hardly any of us have taken his observation to heart.

The main thing to remember when you are faced with a physical task is that you need to put your full attention at the place where the work is being done. For instance, if you are hammering a nail into the wall, you may think that the place to focus on is the head of the nail. However, the work is actually taking place where the nail is going into the wall, so put your mind at that precise point, while your eyes watch the hammer hit the nail. This will enable the nail to go straight into the wall. If you are trying to unscrew a recalcitrant jar, let your attention rest in the space between the metal and the glass as you twist. You may think that there isn’t any space there, but obviously there must be or the two would be welded together.

In order to see what is going on in any given moment, we need to have our attention out. Instead of being carried along by the flow of events or withdrawing from it, we just stay right here. There is only this moment. This is the only way to appreciate the divine.
We are always anticipating that something better (or worse) is about to happen, but it is as well to keep in mind that wonderful Gahan Wilson cartoon where two men are sitting on cushions in the zendo and have obviously been there for some time. The monk leans over and whispers into the ear of the novice: “Nothing happens next. This is it.”
I don’t quite know how we got it into our heads that whatever is going on right now is probably not that important, but it is a very pervasive view, even though in 1242 Zen Master Dogen observed:

Each day is valuable…. Do not compare it with a dragon’s bright pearl. A dragon’s pearl may be found. But this one day out of a hundred years cannot be retrieved once it is lost.

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