―Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
|The Studio at Community Yoga|
I had decided that I wanted to reclaim a hatha yoga practice as part of my rehab from a cardiac procedure back then, and was attending my first class at a series offered by the local food coop when the teacher that day, Jenny Chapin, announced at the end of class that she was looking for a someone to exchange custodial duties for yoga classes at the studio she owned and directed.
I'm not chomping at the bit to find a replacement.
Gold Is Not All That Glitters
What's not to like?
Considered lowly, even demeaning, many of the basic necessary activities of day to day life are often avoided, then raced through while our minds race elsewhere. In mainstream society, these activities, and those who perform them, are considered "unskilled". They are somehow beneath us -- whoever the hell "us" is in the context of real life, because most of us still have to clean, do laundry, and take out the garbage.
Conflicted from the get-go, a whole realm of straight forward, and necessary physical activity generally becomes experienced as gruntwork, drudgery. Programmed in a hierarchical society to feed our egos by,"lording it over" somebody, we can find ourselves being bored and frustrated schleps -- a lot.
It doesn't have to be this way.
Although housekeepers and janitors aren't going to make it into Who's Who, the duties they perform are the warp and woof of the tapestry of Real Life. As such, they are a wonderful ground for Mindfulness Practice -- and a staple of Zen Training. When approached as Practice, with the physical and sensory experience of the activity becoming the object of meditation, we can refine our attention and explore the nature of our own mind.
Like any form of Practice, with time and careful attention, something shifts. Letting the thoughts and feelings come and go without paying them undue attention, we come to our senses. At that point, the movement of our body, the tactile sensations we are experiencing, and the sights, sounds and odors of the task at hand are all that exists. When that happens the very ordinary becomes very special.
A Master at Work
My second encounter with my first embodied Zen teacher, Reverend Gyomay Kubose came on the morning of the weekend Sesshin scheduled to begin that evening. I had spent the night sleeping on the floor in the educational wing of the Chicago Buddhist Temple, having traveled down from a small town in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. Although I had consumed books and books of teachings by then, and meditated (or thought I did) for a few years, I had never been face to face with an actual meditation teacher.
The first encounter had occurred the night before as Reverend Kubose had graciously welcomed me at the door of his home -- a full day before the start of Sesshin. (a story of hippie cluelessness best left for later..). After making sure his unexpected visitor wasn't hungry, (his wife poked her head into the kitchen at one point, rolled her eyes and left), Sensei Kubose had shown me where to lay out my sleeping bag, then told me to meet him in the Zendo the next morning.
Used to sleeping bags and floors at that time in my life, I slept soundly.
|Reverend Gyomay Kubose 1905-2000|
Me being me, I immediately asked if i could help, extending my hands to take the handle of the mop. Instead he asked me to follow him over to a table in a side room. There, laid an assortment of flowers and a vase. With a minimum of instruction he asked me to arrange the flowers and place the vase on the altar when I had finished. He then turned and began mopping again.
I learned a lot that day.