Sitting and being present (as I described in my prior post – What do you mean when you say “be present”?) is not the only option. You can mow the lawn while being present, wash the dishes while being present, eat supper while being present, etc. You can even do work while being present. There is no reason why you could not do things (even work) and not also be present.
Sitting and doing nothing (i.e. meditation) for periods of time can be done too, but you can eat while being present, shower while being present, get dressed while being present…and continue on the whole day being present while doing things.
You just need to be 100% devoted to the experience you are having while doing the task at hand. Not self-reflecting on its difficulty or that you don’t want to do it. Not commenting, critiquing, or judging the experience you are having while doing the task at hand.
There is an old Zen story that goes…
Someone once asked a Zen Master, “How do you practice Zen?”
The master said, “When you are hungry, eat; when you are tired, sleep.”
“But doesn’t everyone do that,” asked the student.
The master replied, “when most people eat, they don’t just eat; their minds are preoccupied with a thousand different fantasies. When they sleep, they don’t just sleep; their minds are filled with any number of idle thoughts.”
You just need to be 100% devoted to the experience you are having while doing the task at hand. Not self-reflecting, commenting, critiquing, judging, or otherwise thinking about what you are doing.
There is another Zen saying that goes…
Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
While this is true, there is a difference between the two. In the later, when they are chopping wood…they are just chopping wood; when they are carrying water…they are just carrying water.
Even very mental tasks can be done this way. Taxes, for example. You have to read, get figures, think if certain things apply or not, maybe add or subtract some figures in your head, etc. However, you can do your taxes and just be doing your taxes.
Being present is not about “absolutely no thought.” It is mainly about ceasing reflective thought – which is the bulk of thought today for most people. For example, you can read about what is included in a certain box on the tax form and then contemplate what fits in that box. This is all activity in the present…for the present task. You are not thinking about the task itself – this is hard, this sucks, why is it so complicated, etc. You are 100% devoted to doing your taxes…and just doing your taxes.
In order to practice being present during activities, some have created the practice of conscious or mindful eating. This is just eating…while being present…100% devoted to the experience. Of course, no thought is needed for this activity and so all thought would be reflexive thought or thought entirely unrelated to what is going on.
There are also walking and moving meditations…being present and just walking or just doing the movements. Again, no thought is needed to walk or do a movement (that you know). Tai chi is sometimes called a moving mediation. I had studied tai chi for many years and also taught tai chi for several years. It is definitely a moving meditation, but when you are learning the movements…it is not very meditative. More thought is often involved in any task you are learning, which is fine. But once the movements are learned, there is no thought…just bodily motion and the full experience of that. It can be amazing.
So, if you are in school and you have calculus homework (for example). When you are doing calc homework…the only thing you are doing is calc homework. If the only thing you are doing is calc homework…that is being present. Like a great dancer…when they dance…the only thing they are doing is dancing. Just do your calc homework…nothing else.
Perhaps put in pauses from time to time…so there can be breaks with no-thought and just feeling the body and experiencing the environment. This will often help because if the mind and thought do start going a little wild, the periods of stillness (even if it is a couple of minutes only) will calm things down. Then return to what you are doing and just do that.