There is a Zen monastery somewhere in the Himalayas which required its novices to go door to door in the village, offering to clean the villagers toilets. They believe that cleaning toilets day after day strengthens the values of compassion, service and humility. The other Buddhist value this service highlights is that no task, no matter how menial or dirty, is of sacred value if approached with dignity and attention. (Wouldn’t you like to have these guys come to your door and offer to clean your toilet? More welcome than the Mormon guys, I’d say. And their robes are cool too.)
I have spent the last few (beautiful, sunny) days weeding our flower gardens. I say “flower gardens” symbolically, since there are no flowers currently blooming; the tulips and daffodils experienced a short life this spring with the late cold snap. All of the others beauties are slow to come up… after having seen what happened to their brethren who bloomed “on time” in a frigid early April. So the rest of the plants stayed underground a bit longer in a defiant act of self-preservation.
But I DIGRESS.
I am practicing my Zen values by weeding hour upon hour, carefully pulling all those little buggers up by the roots, digging under them with a trowel until they surrender. There are thousands. The work is tedious, hot, and brainless. But oddly satisfying.
The Zen Masters say that while practicing work – in this case weeding – you must empty your mind of distracting thoughts so that you are totally present in the moment. You must consider each weed and each clump of damp earth, contemplating your existence and your role in changing this cycle of life. (Yes, contemplate that you are the Grim Reaper of Weeds.)
To which I say — POPPYCOCK.
To empty your mind while weeding is to throw away an opportunity for all kinds of distracting thoughts. Creative ideas. Gratitude for friends. Anticipation of trail rides to come. Plans for farm improvement. Consideration of what color dress to get for son’s upcoming wedding. Achy knees and that getting old sucks. What to name the new chicken. (Marilyn).
Okay, okay…. I didn’t think a SINGLE MOMENT about world hunger, the tragedy of the stolen girls in Nigeria, the Syrian war, the impending environmental collapse, the political dysfunction in Washington….I reserve those thoughts for a limited amount of time in the day, or I might kill myself.
But the Zen of weeding allowed me, hour after sweaty hour, to consider my existence as a 60-something, small farm, retired, outdoor-loving, introverted but socially-acceptable woman, examining the minutiae that make a life. Perhaps you might say these nuts-and-bolts incidentals are insignificant in the scheme of things. Perhaps. But perhaps these life details are all we have.
And DARN, my flower beds look GREAT!