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.