Today’s meditation asked me to focus on my hands. With my eyes closed, I paid attention to the sensations coming from my palms, my fingertips, the back of my hand. I didn’t experience any sort of revelation during the session, but I certainly did notice feelings I wouldn’t have before. When I opened my eyes though, I saw how dry they were, white lines crossing the insides of my hands. I hadn’t noticed before.

I’ve spent much of my life searching for some kind of clarity, an assurance that the ideas I’m acting on are the “correct” ones. But the world around us seems to value broad strokes, grand statements based on how strong a reaction they create.

Those reactions can be positive or negative: it doesn’t matter much in an economy where the primary currency is attention. Attention is a currency measured with absolute value.

But I’ve been lucky enough to know a wide range of people from around the world, to hear their stories. I’ve lived in a number of places in my life, some pretty well off…some not so much. I’ve seen the ways that life is often more complicated, messier than the summary provides. Still, we have to take action based on summaries. None of us have the time or capability to fully experience another person’s life, what brings them to who they are and what they do.

It’s also hard for me to tell how much weight to give these subtle details. It’s hard to find space to look for subtleties when I feel this perpetual threat at the doorstep, targeted attacks towards my existence just a couple of clicks away at any given moment.

Though that feels like a statement about me, I think it’s a feeling many of us associate with right now, regardless of our background. Sure, it’d be great to spend the time needed to discover all the sensations on the fingertips…but that’s usually more time than we’re given when those fingers are part of a fist coming for our face.

It’s difficult to frame some of these meditative concepts right now, given the state of my world…but I feel they’re important. I struggle to imagine endings to these conflicts that don’t end in more blood with as much anger, fear, and fast-paced action as we have fueling our interactions.

I want to believe there’s still a chance to see the nuance in each other, to find space for understanding, to address past pain, to make the future something we can find hope in together. I know not everyone wants that, but I think enough of us do. More than enough, really.

Gaining that clarity requires time: time to adjust focus, to realign the senses. It requires a willingness to slow down interactions, to make space in them. It requires time to search for nuance, to find and respect the realities we might have missed, to give them pause.

I don’t know if the time we need is time that we have.

But I have to believe that it’s time we can make.

These posts are responses to the Calm app’s Daily Calm meditations.

Kotsu Kotsu

I’ve tried to restart meditation twice since George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s killings. Both times it felt wrong to spend time in that meditative space, to spend time looking at anything other than the injustice, the outpourings of grief and outrage. As I start it again, it still feels wrong. But it also feels necessary.

Kotsu Kotsu is a Japanese term that, according to the meditation, loosely translates to “step by step.” It aligns with a Zen proverb: “Carry water. Chop wood.”

Concerns about WWIII in January. Australian fires. COVID. Racist murders, protests and riots in the wake of police brutality and racism… and that’s amidst climate change, rising authoritarianism/fascism… There’s not been much of a time to slow down this year. I’ve felt like I have to look at 20 things simultaneously all the time.

Mindfulness meditation as a practice calls for choosing one thing and focusing there… And particularly now, it’s a concept a part of me considers shallow and privileged. It feels like not encompassing the entirety of the world in a single viewpoint, missing any situation or struggle, even for a moment, is unfair to those experiencing it. I don’t think I can argue with that idea at its core.

“Step by step” in this context doesn’t mean disregarding the rest of the world for a single point of focus, though. It means giving full energy, full attention, even if just for a few minutes… How can you chop wood effectively when you’re carrying water?

“Step by step” is about choosing to commit to a specific place, a task, an idea, then committing to the next one. Though a part of me hates it, it also feels necessary.

Making a habit of being fully present means committing to being truly impactful wherever you are, whatever you’re doing…whether it’s speaking out for what you believe in, working a job, or resting and recharging. This means resisting the impulse to multitask.

For me, when I stop imagining I can be 20 places at once, I have to deal with the feeling that I’m constantly letting 19 places down by not handling what I feel their needs are. I have to plan, set reasonable expectations for myself and the people around me. I have to communicate those expectations. I have to make choices not on impulse, getting dragged from emergency to emergency without finishing anything, but to commit to the impact I want to make in that moment.

When speaking out, speak out. When working, work. When resting, truly rest (I know I need to take this advice myself). And, when multitasking (since the world is real and fast-paced even when we don’t want it to be), commit to specific actions for a set time.

Trust yourself: choose to do something until choosing to do something else.

Carry water. Chop wood.

Step by step.