When bringing our Dhamma practice into daily life it is important to learn how to pay attention to detail, to pay attention to small things. One can have a woolly, universal, “just be mindful” attitude and not be clear about what one is doing. It’s important to look after one’s duties and not overlook things and to keep things neat, tidy, clean and orderly. Attention to detail cultivates an attitude of mindfulness. It’s an important application of our training, but this attitude also starts to permeate how we relate to our own mind and experience. Greed, hatred, and delusion do not leap up in the mind with signs on them, attracting our attention. Usually one needs to pay attention to understand the nuances of our attachment and the delusion we experience. If we haven’t cultivated the habit of paying attention, putting forth extra effort, and attending to the little things around us, then we’ll miss all sorts of things in Dhamma practice.
So, we need to apply effort to prop ourselves up and pay close attention. The Buddha points out yoniso manasikara as a harbinger of the path. Yoniso manasikara is the quality of skillful attention, wise reflection, a close attention to the root of things. It doesn’t pop up like a mushroom in the springtime; it has to be cultivated. In ordinary circumstances we can pay attention to putting stuff away, putting things in the right place, and not walking past things that need to be done. Sometimes you walk past something that really should be cleaned and tidied up out of laziness or on the assumption that somebody else will do it. If everybody thinks “somebody should really get to that,” then things never get done. If everybody pays attention as a fundamental attitude, the monastery functions in a beautiful fashion, and it really works. It all comes back to the willingness to pay attention to detail, to pay attention to the little things.
The Buddha cultivated his whole path to liberation from something that most religions and philosophies overlook, the experience of that which is unsatisfactory or suffering. Western religions and philosophies expound grand, broad brush philosophies and statements of truth and reality, but when people try to follow these ideals, they sometimes live with each other abominably. But paying attention to the little things helps us consider what leads to disease, discomfort, dissatisfaction, stress, and dukkha. On a certain level, it’s only a little thing but it is key to learning how to live skillfully in a way that opens the possibility for real peace and freedom.