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Taking Out The Trash: Mindfulness in Action

Chop wood, carry water...or, Take out the trash, Jack: Mindfulness in Action

You can only do one thing at a time. So, if you are to do that one thing, why not give it your complete, undivided attention. When you sweep, sweep. When you sit, sit. When you walk, walk. Chop wood, carry water...this is the core of mindful living and the essence of evolving into a conscious being.

As we indulge ourselves in this conversation, I would ask you first to indulge me. Before you continue reading, get up from your seat, walk over to the sink or the ‘fridge and get your self a glass of water, then drink it...don't sip, drink it down.

Done? Good. What happened? Nothing, right? Exactly!!! When you drink a glass of water, you can't do anything else. Your mind empties, your breathing stops, and you are consumed by the act of drinking the water. You emptied your mind. You've taken out the trash! (I learned this object lesson and brilliant bit of practical wisdom from Sri Dharma Mittra). You may have even had a word for the experience when you were done..."Ahhh!"

We live in a state of constant distraction and hyper-stimulation. Because we are so over-stimulated, we have become desensitized to our world. When is the last time you actually tasted your food? Or smelled the scent of your partner? Or listened to the road noise of your car as you've driven on the highway? When is the last time you lay in bed in the morning and tried to separate out the different voices of the songbirds, instead of lumping them into "birds singing"...or do you even notice the songbirds? WAKE UP!!!

There is always something happening. It is just a question of paying attention. Paying attention means being utterly mindful of what we are doing, and doing and attending to one thing at a time. Turn off the TV when you eat, and eat. Don't talk on the ‘phone when you drive or answer email. When you have a conversation with a person -- any person -- attend to them as if they are the most important person in the world! Chop wood, carry water.

We have extraordinary potential, both as physical beings having spiritual experiences, but more, as spiritual beings having physical experiences. Mindfulness practice allows us to develop that potential by causing us to be present, and enhance our personal authenticity. This deeper experience of self leads to a deeper experience of Self, bridging the gap between our phenomenal experience and our transpersonal experience of the world. In coming closer to the divine spark, we become more connected to who we are in this world, as well as closer to the other sentient beings who populate it along with us. Think of it as Yoga off the mat.


The time honored technique for ‘taking out the trash' is sitting meditation. The simplest, and most effective style (there are hundreds) for developing daily mindfulness is the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyu lineage meditation tradition, wherein one attends to the out-breath. I won't go into the specifics of the method in this post, but resources can be found in the writings of Chogyam Trungpa, Pema Chodran and the Shambhala wisdom teachings. A good resource for guided meditation is Jack Kornfield's ‘Guided Meditation' CD.

Experientially, a great instructional tool is the recent film 'Peaceful Warrior', which is based on Dan Millman's classic novel on the exploration of human potential 'The Way of the Peaceful Warrior'. The phrase, "Take out the trash, Jack." is actually borrowed from Socrates, the metaphysician/gas station attendant/martial arts master who Millman encountered when he is attending UCLA and is the central character in the book.

© 2008 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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