‘A way to keep the mind focused’ (Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Indiana)

Susan Hogan-Holbach: The religion professor’s foot was propped on a chair, his crutches on the floor. A few days earlier, he’d broken his foot. A spiritual lesson, he said. “I’m in this condition due to a failure in mindfulness,” said Ruben Habito, the spiritual guide at the Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas. “But now, each movement can become something I cherish because I cannot take anything for granted.

“I’m finding my way and learning how to walk again on three legs.”

Dr. Habito, 56, is a former Jesuit priest who practices Catholicism and Zen. He teaches world religions and spirituality at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.

A native of the Philippines, he holds a doctorate in Buddhism from Tokyo University. His most recent book is “Living Zen, Loving God” (Wisdom Publications, $14.95).

Dr. Habito and his wife, Maria Reis Habito, have two sons.

He spoke recently about mindfulness with the Dallas Morning News.

Q: Define mindfulness.

Being aware of the dynamic reality of the present moment.

Q: How do you cultivate mindfulness?

It involves different formats, depending on an individual’s disposition – maybe counting one’s breath or just sitting without any specific agenda.

That sounds easy enough. You just sit. But there’s really a lot more involved in just sitting than just sitting. It’s a way to keep the mind focused on the present rather than letting it wander, thinking about the past or the future or issues in our lives. The invitation is to try and see how it goes.

Q: What makes mindfulness meditation different from other forms?

It’s not a practice of thinking about something. It’s an exercise in being fully present with each breath. Just being still and being aware in the moment opens up a treasure house of spirituality and resources.

In our ordinary consciousness, we are hardly in the present moment. We are always chasing after our lives ahead of us and never really living our life while it’s happening.

Q: Why is mindfulness popular in the mainstream?

People are trying to fill their inner spiritual hunger. They are finding that material things are not really satisfying. So maybe this is the next thing they can try. Hopefully, they will find something substantial.

Q: What are the most common misconceptions?

Some people take it to be self-consciousness. That’s the exact opposite of mindfulness. It doesn’t mean that I must be conscious of doing this and doing that, but simply aware.

Q: What’s the difference?

There’s a way of washing the dishes where you’re aware of just being there washing the dishes. You’re aware of the knives and the fluffy bubbles and lukewarm water. Being self-conscious is more like, “Hmm. Am I doing it right?” It’s almost like you’re critiquing yourself.

Q: A lot of people learn about mindfulness from books and tapes rather than a teacher or meditation center. Does it make a difference?

You can get a cookbook, follow a recipe and learn to cook. But it’s much easier to learn if you have a culinary expert to help you.

Q: Are Christian meditation and Zen meditation compatible?

In Christian meditation, we seek God’s presence in each and every thing, each and every moment, each and every act. It’s not different from what Buddhists call mindfulness, though it comes with a lot of theological underpinnings.

Q: Why is the living in present moment important?

Be there and you’ll see.

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