I have a problem that a lot of people have. I sort of amble mindlessly along, mentally chewing over an event that happened 40 or 50 years in the past, or worrying about where the energy is going to come from to shop tomorrow.
Meanwhile the day slides by and by the time I'm ready to fold up and go to bed I wonder, "Where'd the day go?" And I stop and realize that I've been asleep (or more accurately mindless) much of the day. My life is sliding through my fingers moment by moment and I'm not even aware of much of it.
There was a young monk who wanted to study with a widely revered teacher. He knew this teacher only accepted the most promising students so he studied the texts, memorized wise sayings and practiced looking impressively serene. Finally he gained an appointment for an interview with the master.
On the morning of his interview it was raining heavily. The young monk set out for the teacher's house carrying his umbrella. When he reached the teacher's house he removed his muddy shoes, closed his umbrella, adjusted his robes and rang the bell.
Once inside he sat where the attendant indicated and waited. After a while the teacher came in. The young monk jumped to his feet.
"So you want to study with me?" the teacher asked, looking out the window at the falling rain. "Have you prepared yourself? Are you ready to learn what I have to teach?"
"Oh yes," the young monk answered, "I have studied very hard."
"On which side of my door did you place your umbrella?" the teacher asked.
The young monk's thoughts flew back to the moment when he closed his umbrella and leaned it on the wall beside the door. He could not remember, his thoughts had not been on the umbrella, but only with the interview before him. "I do not remember," he said, "is where I placed my umbrella of importance?"
"Until you wake up and learn to pay absolute attention to every moment and what it holds I cannot teach you anything," the teacher answered.
The young monk went away and began learning to discipline his mind. It was seven years before he was capable of living entirely in the moment. But when he approached the teacher the second time, he was welcomed. He knew he had placed his umbrella on the right side of the door because he was awake when he did it.
This story came to mind a few days ago because I had taken my keys from their usual place while getting ready to go out. I put them somewhere and then couldn't find them.
We looked at each other and, as so often is the case, we shared the same thought, and asked each other the same question. "On which side of the door did you place your umbrella?"