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Zen and the Art of Housework


“Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine.”

“When you do something, if you fix your mind on the activity with some confidence, the quality of your state of mind is the activity itself.  When you are concentrated on the quality of your being, you are prepared for the activity.”

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

The process of effortless performance is described in the classic volume, Zen in the Art of Archery. Eugen Herrigel, a German philosopher who was invited to teach for several years at the University of Tokyo, wrote the book in the late 1930’s. During his stay in Japan, Herrigel had a unique opportunity to get to know the country and its people, and especially, to develop a more intimate understanding of Buddhism and the "introspective practice of mysticism."

Herrigel decided to seek out a master to teach him the “artless art” of the Zen archer.  The Zen archer must stop trying to shoot the arrow correctly as he learns to gain mastery and thus detaches himself from his results. He must learn to relax his body at precisely the moment he would normally be tensed, to draw the bow "spiritually" with a kind of effortless strength, and to "get out of his own way" so that his higher power can take over. When he is able to give over control to the "it", the arrows unerringly find the bull’s-eye, even though the archer seems hardly to be taking aim.

When I find my mind so busy with thoughts or feel that I am fighting chaos on a work related project, I turn to cleaning the house, the car, or my office.  The dusting, vacuuming, and straightening clutter have therapeutic qualities and the world around me almost comes to a stand still.  When completed, I have a new sense of order and things become a little clearer.  I remember people at work coming into my office after such episodes and commenting on the smell of Pledge hanging in the air and said things like, “Be prepared for an on-slot of ideas coming out of the corner office.  Olson got organized!”

Zen teaches that one should be involved in the process and not focused on the outcome.  The outcome will take care of itself if the process is correct.  Zen also teaches us to be in the moment.  There is so much currently being written on this subject that it appears to be a new concept, but in fact it is part of this ancient philosophy and many others.

Whenever we redefine daily activities to become less concerned with results and simply “be”, we allow ourselves to touch our Spirit.  Sounds a bit strange when talking about the act of housecleaning, cleaning the garage or yard work, but it is possible.  My prayers resemble an ongoing dialogue with God similar to those of Elijah in the Jewish and Christian faiths.  So when I am really into the Zen of my cleaning, I tend to have some wonderful conversations with God. 

The awakened soul can find meaning in everything we do, say, and feel.

With respect, acceptance, and love,

R.D. Olson

© R.D. Olson and Awaken The Soul, 2002-2016; Edited by J.E. Olson

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki; Copyright1970; Weatherhill, Inc.