Presence of Mind: Lessons from the Exploding Kitchen
Yesterday, I botched my cooking and burned the kitchen down.
Well, I did botched my cooking but the kitchen didn’t burn down. I only wished it did because botched cooking is something I cannot accept. It only means one thing for me.
I didn’t have presence of mind. The absence of a presence of mind can literally burn the kitchen down. Like the recent kitchen explosion caused by a waitress who was paying more attention to her phone than her surroundings.
What is Presence of Mind?
The Merriam Webster dictionary definition of presence of mind is:
“Self-control so maintained in an emergency or in an embarrassing situation that one can say or do the right thing”
Which aptly described the action of the careless woman in the youtube video.
Presence of mind means you are able to focus your attention on your inner thoughts and simultaneously let go of past or future worries.
What is the Deal with Presence of Mind?
So what’s the deal with presence of mind that I am spending a whole blog post ranting and raving about?
Because, as you can see in the youtube video, it could cost you your life. If you are a samurai in feudal Japan and you have no presence of mind, you may very well end up being cut into two by your opponent.
It happened to me on numerous occasions during kendo (Japanese fencing) practice where a split second distraction resulted in the bamboo sword of my opponent landing hard on my head. Ouch! Just for trying to recall if I had wind up my car window in the parking lot (or not).
The existence of digital gadgets, social media and internet 24/7 is making it increasingly difficult to cultivate the presence of mind. Seems like everyone who is hooked on a smartphone is now suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
How Does One Attain Presence of Mind?
The following story serve as a good example of presence of mind in our day to day living:
One day, the master was watching a practice session in the courtyard. One of his younger student caught his attention. He observed that the presence of the other students was interfering with the young student’s attempts to perfect his technique.
Sensing the young student’s frustration, the master went up to the young man and tapped him on his shoulder.
“What’s the problem?” he inquired.
“I don’t know”, said the youth, with an exasperated look.
“No matter how much I try, I am unable to execute the moves properly”.
“Before you can master technique, you must understand what harmony means. Come with me, I will explain”, replied the master.
The teacher led his student into the woods until they came upon a stream. The master stood silently on the bank for several moments. Then he spoke.
“Look at the stream,” he said. “There are rocks in its way. Does it slam into them out of frustration? It simply flows over and around them and moves on! Be like the water and you will know what harmony is.”
The young man took the master’s advice to heart. Soon, he was barely noticing the other students around him. Nothing could come in his way of executing the most perfect moves.
Get into the habit of focusing your attention on your inner thoughts and let go of your present worries.
Practice this daily.
I had to throw away what I cooked because while cooking my thoughts were elsewhere. At that moment I wasn’t in the moment. I was NOT present and thus my cooking was ruined.
If I were a samurai in feudal Japan, That would mean I would have died a thousand deaths . . .