Experiencing Awe in the Mundane

Put your heart, mind, intellect and soul even to your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.
Swami Sivananda

I’m not “into” meditation and have no idea what a Swami is.  Maybe I should expand my horizons.  I have learned Zen is a Japanese form of Buddhism emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition.  Its culture is uniquely Eastern and until recently the West knew little about them.  Some Americans and Europeans who have discovered Zen have found a deep interest in it.

Zen’s reach into it’s follower’s lives is long and extends into interior design.  Zen reflects balance, harmony and relaxationLess is more is the principle when decorating zen style.  Clear the clutter and clear the mind.  I think I like Zen.

I came across Zen through a fellow blogger’s link which brought me to the following “enlightenment”.  I was enlightened.  It’s from a website Interlude: An Internet Retreat whose hopes are to bring its readers a few moments of peace, composure, and mental expansion.  Is there any among us that can’t use a bit of that?

Some of what follows is a bit more touchy and feely than I’m used to it, but only for a short distance.  I liked it, so I share it with my friends.

Work.  What does the word mean to you?  Is it something to be avoided?  Is it a means to an end?  Is it the only appropriate focus of your attention and energy?  Is it a way to avoid the rest of your life?  Is it a joy?  Is it a part of your spiritual practice?

There is a Zen saying, “Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.”  What’s the difference?  The tasks are the same.  The need is the same.  What about the frame of mind?  Who is chopping?  Who is carrying water?

When you labor, stay awake.  Notice the frame of mind you bring to your work.  Do you approach your work as if it were a nuisance? Do you remove your consciousness from work so that you are filled with resentment or worry?  What would you need to do to be more fully present in your work?

Practice mindfulness in work.  It does little good to attain clarity of mind on your meditation cushion if you lose it as soon as you become active.  Start with simple activities like brushing your teeth, ironing clothes, or washing dishes.  Be fully alert as you move. Notice the position of your body in space.  Notice the feelings in your body as you move.  Pay attention to the thoughts that enter your mind when you do the task.  See if you can let them go and just focus on the work itself.

If you are cleaning a countertop, feel the sponge in your hand.  Feel the wetness.  Feel the texture.  Observe how the sponge moves in your hand from the sink to the counter.  Sense your movements as you scrub.  What do your eyes see?  What do you hear as you work? Clean that countertop as if it were the most important thing you could do.  Move with fluid motions.  Waste no energy.  Allow yourself the grace of economy of motion.  Be grateful for the countertop, the sponge, the water, the soap.  Be grateful for the hand, the arm, the whole body that can move a sponge.  Be thankful for the floor you stand on and the roof that protects you.  Without letting your mind wander too far, be grateful for all the circumstances that put you where you are at that moment with that sponge and that water and that countertop.

Character for the word Zen

We travel to the ocean or to mountains, rivers and canyons, in part to escape the mundane world of work, but also to experience the awe that arises more spontaneously in nature’s magnificence.  We give ourselves an incredible gift when we can experience some of the same awe in the mundane world of our daily lives.  The weed that grows in the crack of a sidewalk is a phenomenon as miraculous as the redwood tree that towers into the sky.  The raindrops that streak the window are no less an occasion for awe than the spray that dampens our face at the waterfall.  The fingers that tap a keyboard are as worthy of praise as the feet of a ballet dancer.

When we open awareness to the tasks in our lives they become lighter.  When we are able to be in the moment, we no longer feel compelled to watch the clock.  Whatever your work might be, bring all of yourself to it.  When you are fully present, you may find that your labor is no longer a burden.  Wood is chopped.  Water is carried.  Life happens.


Zen in Daily Life

Interior Design


One comment on “Experiencing Awe in the Mundane

  1. Hmmm. I’m thinking (yeah, and remembering your post yesterday about “thinking” too) about the walks I often take with Sir Samuel J. Muttley, our dog as I often walk down the road, through the wooded area towards the ghost town of Peale. Really isn’t all that much to see -trees and such -and yet, there is something about walking along that road that allows me to relax and enjoy looking at those same trees, day after day! I often take my little camera with me so that, on the off chance that there might be something new to view and taking a photo then helps me to remember that place, that time, that brief visit to my space that almost always refreshes me. Good post, Rick!

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