Mindfulness which in recent years has become synonymous with what the Japanese call zazen – meditating cross-legged on a cushion. More accurately, the Japanese view mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. Read on to learn the deeper intricacies of the Japanese practice.
Mindfulness-Incorporating the Full Potential
Mindfulness has become trendy around the world in recent years – but in Japan, it’s been ingrained into the culture for centuries.
As the sleek shinkansen bullet train glided noiselessly into the station, I watched a strange ritual begin. During the brief stop, the conductor in the last carriage began talking to himself. He proceeded to perform a series of tasks, commenting aloud on each one and vigorously gesticulating at various bits of the train all the while.
So what was he up to? You could say he’s practicing mindfulness. The Japanese call it shisa kanko (literally ‘checking and calling’), an error-prevention drill that railway employees here have been using for more than 100 years. Conductors point at the things they need to check and then name them out loud as they do them, a dialogue with themselves to ensure nothing gets overlooked.
And it seems to work. A 1994 study by Japan’s Railway Technical Research Institute, cited in The Japan Times, showed that when asked to perform a simple task workers typically make 2.38 mistakes per 100 actions. When using shisa kanko, this number reduced to just 0.38% – a massive 85% drop.
This may seem a long way from mindfulness, which in recent years has become synonymous with what the Japanese call zazen – meditating cross-legged on a cushion. But according to Jon Kabat-Zinn mindfulness is “not really about sitting in the full lotus… pretending you’re a statue in the British Museum. Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness.”
And this present-moment awareness has been deeply ingrained into the Japanese psyche for centuries. You don’t hear people talk about it, but it manifests itself in myriad ways.
And there are the growing ranks of Moss Girls. Inspired in part by Hisako Fujii’s best-selling book, Mosses, My Dear Friends, moss-viewing has become increasingly trendy, especially with young women, who go on guided tours to Japan’s lush moss-carpeted forests. This goes way beyond just stopping to smell the roses: Moss Girls get down on hands and knees with a loupe to contemplate the lovely lichens.
But there’s more to Japanese mindfulness than gazing at bugs and blooms. Countless practical applications govern virtually every aspect of daily life, all designed to help you ‘be in the now’. At school, days begin and end with a short ceremony, where greetings are exchanged and the day’s events are announced. Before and after each class, students and teacher stand, bow and thank each other. And before starting the lesson, students are asked to close their eyes to focus their concentration.
Similarly, construction workers engage in collective stretches to limber up for the day’s work. In the office, a colleague will tell you ‘Otsukaresama’, (literally ‘you’re tired’), as a way of saying thanks for the work you’ve done. At meetings, hand someone your meishi (business card) and they’ll examine it carefully and make a comment, never dreaming of just sticking it in their pocket.
These practices are a way of what Kabat-Zinn calls ‘purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moment’s thought to’. They help keep you conscious of where you are and what you are doing throughout the day, rather than stumbling from one hour to the next on autopilot, focused only on going-home time.
So how can we put a little more mindfulness into our lives? Start with something simple, like a bit of pointing and calling before you leave home in the morning. Lights off? Check. Windows closed? Check. Money? Check. Phone? Check. You’ll never forget your keys again. read more at bbc.com
Are you ready to start talking checklist with yourself? I am, CHECK…