A monk once came to Joshu (Chinese Zen Master) at breakfast time and said, “I have just entered this monastery to learn about God. Please teach me.”
“Have you eaten your porridge yet,” asked Joshu.
“Yes, I have,” replied the monk.
“Then you had better wash your bowl,” said Joshu.
That’s it??? Wash my bowl?
Really? That’s the best you’ve got??? Wash my bowl?
Can I at least get a Power Point on Meaningful Bowl Washing?
Let’s face it, bowl washing is hardly inspiring advice, in our self-help show-and-tell culture.
Yes, I hope that we would want…
…to practice mindful-living.
…to be fully present.
…to be alive in our own skin. (Especially in a world where our insides can churn to the point of distraction and depletion.)
As Thomas Merton reminded us, “Everything has already been given. What we need is to live into it.”
Here’s what I know to be true. I will live an impoverished life if I compartmentalize my life, or numb myself to those parts of my life I find less than holy or enriching. Someone once suggested that if we are looking for God, it might help to look lower, to the much more modest, ordinary days of our life.
So this week I hit the reset button:
There is however, a hitch in our giddy up.
Two psychologists conducted an experiment on the campus of Cornell University, to test people’s awareness (as they walked through the campus). An individual carrying a campus map, asked unsuspecting pedestrians if they could give directions to one of the nearby campus buildings. Halfway through the encounter, the psychologists arranged for two people to walk between the questioner and the pedestrian while carrying a large door. Thus, for a brief moment, the interviewer was hidden from view behind the door. With practiced skill, at that very moment, a second questioner took the place of the first one. Different person: different clothing, different height, different voice.
Okay. Are you ready for this? How many people noticed the change?
In the first study, only 47%.
In the second study less, only 33%.
This is what makes the study interesting (and relates to washing the bowl): When our mind is focused only in “doing mode” (versus “being mode”)–when we are vigilant only about solving or fixing or figuring out or attaining a goal–we filter out much of what is available to our senses. We are not “present,” even to the extent (as in the experiment) of not even noticing the person we are talking with. (Some of you are thinking, so that’s what happened to my spouse. Someone walked between us with a large door. That explains everything!)
I can tell you that there are times I glaze over.
There are times I am tired and unfocused.
There are times when I ignore the details.
But this cultural tendency seems to be more insidious. There are times when we, quite literally, don’t see or notice or pay attention, to the life that is in front of us, in this given moment. More often than not, it is because I am looking ahead, to my life after the bowl is washed. As if there’s some kind of payoff.
We don’t want to “just” wash the bowl — or whatever small, insignificant, trivial task we may be engaged in. We want to validate it. Or turn it into some sort of competition.
So here’s my invitation this week: let us drink an elixir of gratitude and humility in ordinary moments. So that in this moment–as I wash my bowl, talk with and listen to a friend, enjoy my birds at the feeder, sip my coffee, read a good book (this week Sherman Alexie’s You don’t have to say you love me), write a letter, pull weeds in the back garden, wait in line at the post office–I can savor, notice, celebrate, take delight, wonder, see, touch and just be.
I found inspiration in a Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s quote. Did you know that the author of The Brothers Karamazov lived his life plagued with epilepsy, episodes of mental problems and periods of great poverty? Even with and through all of that, he wrote, “Love all of God’s creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light! Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. And once you have perceived it, you will begin to comprehend it ceaselessly, more and more every day. And you will at last come to love the whole world with an abiding, universal love.”
On retreats I talk about finding sanctuary and the sacrament of the present moment. We lead an awareness walk, asking, “What do I see, hear, smell, touch?” Oddly, when it’s sharing time there is a part of every one of us that doesn’t want to tell the group it was “just” a walk. We want to let everyone know that we gained insight, or had a profound and moving experience, or that it felt like a spiritual mountaintop. We have swallowed the assumption that to “just walk,” even while noticing and taking in and absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of the day, is a character flaw.
Here’s the deal: today, we will let go of the need to manufacture meaning.
Crocosmia Lucifer is in full bloom in my garden. Enflamed red, as its name suggests. And the Clematis Jackmanii over the garden arbor; mercy. Deep purple. Sacred purple. Sometimes the everyday can be a hitch in our best-laid plans. And if I spend too much time preoccupied (with my plans), sadly, I will miss the sunset every time.
Quotes for your week:
One of the main apprenticeships a poet serves is the apprenticeship of attention…of paying attention to whatever is there…. and to let (things) be as they are. Attention is actually a live connection to the world. David Whyte
We do not remember days. We remember moments. The motto of Prospect 772 Winery
Notes: The Cornell Study is from the book, The Mindful Way through Depression
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Let it in, let it all in
Let it all in to your heart
All that is, all that is gift
You don’t’ have to take it apart
Everything we do is like breathing
We’ve been holding our breath for too long
Could you trust your life to the seasons and let the wind take you along
Let it out let it all out
Let it all out of your mind
Let it go, we don’t have to know
The answers to all that you find
There’s an emptiness that comes from having too much Too much without any soul
Let out the lifeless the stale and the stuck
And let in what makes you more whole
Let in what makes you more whole
In the morning light, O God,
may I glimpse again your image deep within me
the threads of eternal glory
woven into the fabric of every man and woman.
fashioned in your likeness
deeper than knowing
more enduring than time.
and in glimpsing these threads of light
amidst the weakness
and distortions of my life
let me be recalled
to the strength and beauty deep in my soul.
Let me be recalled
to the strength and beauty of your image in every living soul.
Celtic Benediction. J Philip Newell