There is an interesting story in the Zen tradition.
A disciple went to see the Master. It was raining, so he brought an umbrella with him. Before entering the Master’s house, he left his wet umbrella and shoes in the verandah. Later, in the middle of some serious conversation, Master suddenly asked “did you put your shoes on the left side of the umbrella or on the right side?”
The disciple was astonished and could not understand the relevance of this question in the middle of such a serious spiritual dialogue. Confused, he said “I don’t remember. But Master! Why is it important? What difference does it make if the shoes are on the right or left side of the umbrella?”
“Awareness”, the Master said.
“You need to be aware of your Self; every nook and corner of the inside of your mind, of every thought and desire. To practice this, you can start by being aware of your surroundings”.
This is true for most of us. Isn’t it? We hardly pay attention to our surroundings. We may walk few miles without noticing any trees or buildings or people on the way. Once in a while, some extraordinary thing may attract our attention momentarily but we hardly remember any details later. The difference between ordinary people and the scientists and philosophers is that the later pay detailed attention to the ordinary things. For thousands of years, man had seen the fruits falling from the trees. It is an ordinary natural phenomenon so no one ever paid any attention to it. But Isaac Newton was different. When an apple fell on is head, he did not see it as an ordinary phenomenon. He looked at it seriously, thought about it deeply, over and over, and discovered the law of gravity.
We can also learn to pay proper attention by looking, rather than seeing; by listening, rather than hearing; by analyzing rather than assuming.
By practicing the ‘mindfulness’ of our outer surroundings, we can eventually learn to be aware of our ‘inside’ also.
“Be aware of your thoughts”, the Upanishad says.
The Zen Master wanted to know if the disciple placed his shoes on the left or the right side of the umbrella.
We should ask ourselves on which side we have placed God; before or after the ‘Maya’, the materialistic world.
In our mind, does the world revolve around God, or the thoughts and Sumiran of God circles around our worldly needs and desires.