Wednesday, November 16, 2011
In one of Zen Buddhism's most famous stories, a new monk approaches his teacher after a meal.
"Please teach me," he asks the master.
"Have you eaten your food?" the master asks the novice.
"Then wash your bowl," Joshua says.
In typically cryptic Zen style, Joshua teaches a profound lesson: Do one thing, and then do the next.
All too often, we get caught up in what we think we should be doing (or anxious about the things we didn't do) instead of simply focusing on what there is to do right now.
Not content to simply eat a meal, we chatter or work or watch TV. Then, barely having tasted our food, we mindlessly dump the dirty dishes in the sink, forgetting to put away the leftovers or clean the counters.
Say hello to the beginning of your messy, cluttered, stressful house.
Imagine instead that you have fully enjoyed your meal, noticing the varied textures and flavors, eating slowly enough to recognize when you're full. Satisfied, you take your dish to the sink and engage fully in the task of washing it. The warm, soapy water surrounds your hands, and the clean scent fills your nostrils. Dishes clean, you wipe your kitchen counters and enjoy the gleam of your healthy, clean environment.
Doing one thing at a time with full attention is the heart of mindful living. Meditation teachers often begin by having students just notice their breath. The next step is to notice that your breath is moving in when you inhale and out when you exhale.
If that sounds easy, close your eyes now, and try it for just five minutes without thinking about or doing anything else.
Were you able to only be with your breath for five minutes?
Did you notice your mind flitting from thought to thought like a monkey jumping from branch to branch?
Did you peek at your clock every 30 seconds, amazed at what an interminable about of time five minutes can be?
Bringing mindfulness to your home environment is a lot like that.
Cleaning, organizing and decorating can all be as simple and gratifying as doing one small thing at a time with full attention.
It doesn't have to be drudgery or filled with anxiety. Done mindfully, even washing dishes can be a satisfying, even joyful experience.