Present Moment, Wonderful Moment.

Dear Friends, Listening to a dharma talk this morning, I heard a term that I hadn't heard before, yoniso manasikara.  It's a Pali phrase from the Buddha's teachings which usually translates as wise or appropriate attention and refers to what we choose to pay attention to in any moment.

Hearing about appropriate attention reminded me of something I read in Buddha's Brain.  In that book, author Rick Hanson says that our brain learns mainly from what we attend to.  Hanson goes on to explain that our human brains preferentially pay attention to unpleasant, scary and difficult experiences.  If we don't put any effort into our attention, we end up with a lot of anxiety and fear.  So what is appropriate to pay attention to?  What will help us reduce our suffering?

In the Buddha's teachings, there are many references to yoniso manasikara. From my limited study on this, it appears that what he meant by appropriate attention was attending to the impermanence of everything that we encounter.  While that sounds like it would be really depressing, in practice when we pay attention to the impermanence of everything around us, we can find ourselves feeling more alive and grateful for the moments that we do have.  It's like the teacher Ajahn Chah said about his favorite drinking glass:

"Someone gave me this glass, and I really like this glass. It holds my water admirably and it glistens in the sunlight. One day the wind may blow it off the shelf, or my elbow may knock it from the table. I know this glass is already broken, so I enjoy it incredibly."

So the Buddha was teaching us how to counteract the human brain's tendency to always be dwelling in anxiety about the future or ruminating on unhappy memories.  In essence it seems yoniso manasikara means to be always teaching ourselves this truth:  "This moment is all I have and isn't it amazing."  Or, as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, "Present Moment, Wonderful Moment."