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  • Writer's pictureallenbroadman

Slipped Away

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

Where does a lost day go?

Do you want to know what's in my heart? From the beginning of time: just this! just this! - Ryokan, 19th Century Japanese Zen monk and poet

Have you ever noticed that it’s dark outside, then realized it’s near to the end of the day and you have no idea where the day went? In the morning there had been so many important plans, things to get done, and people to see and talk with. But looking back over the day, you discover that most of what you had intended never happened. What did happen?

Often, the day slipped away into distractions, that’s what happened. The ten minutes set aside for a cup of coffee before starting an important task ended up becoming an hour of reading news online. Sitting down to fold some laundry, the television got turned on for a few minutes and a “few” turned out to be ninety minutes of bad reality TV shows. Checking a social media account for “just a quick look” ended up with sliding down a rabbit hole of endless post after post about meaningless nothings. And now it’s time for bed, and the day has been lost.

In the deepest sense, nothing is truly lost. Whatever was done, that was the day. But there is loss in the sense that there were other, more important things to do, things that were intended and planned, and now at the end of the day, there is wishing for what might have happened instead of having done all those distracting activities which pulled us away. At the end of the day, thinking of all the alternative ways the day might have gone with different choices, we can find ourselves disappointed and regretful about the way the day actually went – about the choices we ended up making, and the ways we didn’t resist distractions.

Because weeks are nothing but groups of days, there can also be lost weeks. It’s the same with months, which are just groups of weeks. And with years. And decades. If we find ourselves nearing the end of our lives, looking back upon lost years, there won’t be any getting them back. At the end of life, lost is lost. It is a common experience for people near the end of life to express deep regret at how they spent their time and efforts in earlier years and decades.

An entire lifetime lost to distractions happens one lost moment at a time.

A lost lifetime seems as if it happens at some kind of very large scale, in some dramatic, mythical scope. But the lost years are just lost months and the lost months just lost weeks and days. And the lost day, the one we started with, was just lost hours and minutes. Eventually it’s all just lost moments. An entire lifetime lost to distractions happens one lost moment at a time. There is no other way that it can happen, no other possibility. Thoughts came and we were pulled away, and more thoughts came and we were pulled away again and again.

Distractions cannot happen on a grand scale of time - distraction happens in each single moment. And our choices – the choices to give into distraction or to stay focused and attentive to our task at hand – those choices also happen moment by moment. Our entire life unfolds in this very moment, right now. There is no other time to get distracted except right now. And there is no other time to choose to stay attentive except right now. There isn’t a next “right now” although we imagine there is. The “next” right now, when lived, is just this right now. There is only just this one right now – the one you experience reading this sentence and that I experience writing it. All those “past” nows are just memories, and all the “future” nows are just imaginings.

The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – T.S. Elliot

Although distractions are challenging, resisting them is ultimately a matter of habit. We can change our habit of giving in to distractions, and as we do that, we become less distracted. We cannot recover lost days or years, those are gone. But we can change our trajectory starting this moment and moving forward. Changing the trajectory of our lives can be a major impact of Zen practice, the heart of which is Zen meditation. Zen practice and meditation, done with sincerity and effort, have the potential to change the habit of giving into distraction into a new habit of staying attentive – of staying fully present to our direct experience as it unfolds.

This change of habit can be transformative, because as we become less distracted and more attentive to what’s happening right now, we can begin to experience the right now with a fullness that was missing when our minds were getting pulled into distracting thoughts and stories. As distractions fall away, we taste flavors in our food in ways we didn’t notice before. We talk with friends and hear them better. We play with our children and see their smiles or frowns and share in their joys and sufferings more fully. All of that and more is possible, to the extent that we can develop our attention to its fullest.

That is one reason why Zen practice and meditation are worth trying. Even a small taste of what might be possible living in deeper attention to each moment can be transformative, because it may influence us to appreciate the difference between attention and distraction. This can then motivate us towards more effort at being attentive, and even to just meditate in stillness for 5 or 10 minutes a day, every day, can help manifest more direct experiences. It just takes some first steps, a willingness to try things a different way, and to then see what happens.


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