Letting go of all the mental chatter and emotional grey clouds and focusing on the actual experience of the moment, dishwashing not only became tolerable, it became the keys to the kingdom. Getting out of my head, becoming aware of my breath and my body, I came to my senses. The warmth of the water on my skin was delicious. The tactile sensations of plates becoming clean and shiny, smooth to the touch, was not only enjoyable, it was deeply satisfying.
In the eyes of our society such work is unskilled, the realm of dishwashers, janitors, and housekeepers. Considered lowly, even demeaning -- or experienced as heinous tasks that had been forced upon us by our parents -- the necessary activities of day-to-day life are often avoided, then raced through haphazardly while our minds race elsewhere. Although many of us actually feel better if our living space is clean and organized, housekeeping itself often becomes an often-avoided, semi-conscious, harried, hustle through the hell realms.
Although housekeepers and janitors probably aren't going to make it into Who's Who in today's world, the tasks they perform are the essential warp and woof of the Grand Tapestry of Real Life. As such, these activities are the perfect ground for Mindfulness Practice. They've been the foundation of Zen Training throughout history. When approached as Practice, with the physical and sensory experience of the activity becoming the object of mindful awareness, we can refine our attention and even connect with our True Nature. In the process, we can transform a dirty bathroom into the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha.
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. Our senses then become our direct connection to the limitless grandeur of this limitless universe. Mindful of the movement of our breath and body, the tactile sensations we are experiencing, and the sights, sounds and odors of the task at hand, we can open to the Limitless Awareness that is always present. The miraculous nature of life becomes self-evident.
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 of the educational wing of the Chicago Buddhist Temple, having traveled down from a small town in Kenosha County, Wisconsin by train. Although I had consumed books and books of teachings by then, and had meditated (or thought I did) for several years, I had never been face to face with an actual meditation teacher.
The first encounter with Reverend Kubose had occurred the night before. He had graciously welcomed me at the door of his home -- a full day before the start of Sesshin. Adrift in stories of how such things might be done in medieval Japan, I didn't even think of calling ahead, or registering for the sesshin, etc. In a classic example of youthful cluelessness, I just showed up.
Used to sleeping bags and floors at that time in my life, I fell asleep quickly and 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 lay 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.
I'm in tears sitting here, filled with gratitude for the depth of his teaching that morning -- and his decades of service to all sentient beings.
To mix traditions a bit: Jai Guru Deva Jai!