Zen Mindfulness and Can You Remain Mindful When the World is in Chaos Around You?

By Scott Shaw

I just came upon this article I wrote for a magazine in 1998 and thought it might be helpful.

There is the old adage that it is easy to be holy in a monastery. It is much more difficult to be holy on the streets of the modern world. In addition to this statement being very true, it is also an important factor to keep in mind on your path to mindfulness.

Born in Los Angeles, California, I have been drawn to the spirit of the driven mother ocean as far back as I can remember. Due to this calling, I have lived near her shoreline for virtually my entire adult life.

Having lived in a particular area of Southern California for many years, I would occasionally stroll past this one particular expansive condominium building on my evening walks and think, “What a perfect place to live. How will I ever be able to afford to live in that building?”

As if a jokingly given gift was presented to me from the great beyond, a few days after my mother left her physical body, I was looking though the newspaper and found a unit for rent in the building. Though not cheap, it was affordable. Ecstatic, I applied, was accepted, and moved in.

Looking out of my windows I see the expansive Pacific Ocean. Listening, I continually hear the sound of the divine mother’s waves.

Though a seemingly idealistic environment, the building is inhabited by a large number of very wealthy people, including an infamous African-American television evangelist who during the 1960’s and 1970’s milked an untold number of elderly people out of their life savings—promising heaven if they contributed, hell if they did not. Hand-in-Hand with this affluence comes a definitive problem; the individual units of the building are continually being remolded: floors retiled, carpets torn up and replaced with hardwood floors, design alterations, rooms expanded, and so on… Whereas most of the inhabitants leave for their plush offices or on shopping sprees early in the A.M., before the constructions gets underway, I am left bombarded by a seemingly nonstop barrage of sawing, pounding, and generalized annoyance.

Perhaps the most telling thing about this situation is that during periods of silence, I fall in love with my surroundings. Then, each time I have a project to complete, it seems new construction begins. Thus, I am kept from the peace and solitude and seemingly forced to the necessity of mental focus to the degree where my creativity can be channeled while noise constantly rattles my concentration.

Initially, I became very upset at the noise. I would blame people’s desire and vanity, (including my own), karma, god, and anything and anybody else around me. “How can I be creative with all this noise,” I would scream.

Somewhere along the pathway I realize, however, that you cannot be reliant upon silence if you wish to remain mindful. Mindfulness cannot be defined by a quiet, passive environment. You must be able to focus your mind to the degree that you can transcend the limitations of the physical world. If you cannot do this, your life, and particularly your mindfulness, will be constantly controlled by your external environment.

Though the noise continues, even as I write these passages, I have been able to create some of my most important work, to date, while living in this building and living through all of the construction turmoil. At some future time, I may move away from this building. For now, I use it as a karmic guru, teaching me to transcend the domination of the material world.

If you choose to walk the path of mindfulness, you must do the same. For if you are only mindful when things are going the way you want them to go, you are not mindful at all. You must be mindful in noise, in chaos, in traffic jams, and in the midst of a heated argument. To do this, you must develop the ability to step back from yourself and remain free of judgment in a world dominated by individualistic desires.

Stepping back, seeing the truth in the chaos, and the perfection in the absurd, this is Zen mindfulness.

Copyright 1998—All Rights Reserved.





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