Walking on the Earth

I learned something these past few weeks; it’s a lot easier to scrape paint off glass than to scrape off masking tape. Luckily I only taped one, the largest window, but cleaning it became an unexpected and tedious job. Water, lots of water, does help, but a paint scraper you’ve sharpened on a carborundum stone must be ground into the cement-like deposit.

I didn’t intend to write about the aftermath of long-overdue window painting, but it serves as a metaphor for what I did intend. These unwelcome chores can be a good exercise in mindfulness. In a way, scraping windows can be as useful a Buddhist exercise as Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Washing the dishes to wash the dishes”.

In “the Miracle of Mindfulness” he says:-
“While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I’m standing there washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.”

Yeah, I guess I blew it. I don’t remember following my breath, or being conscious of anything, except that damned glue I had to wet down and scratch away. I might have forfeited my chance of instant enlightenment. Not that enlightenment is the only goal for exploring the 2500 year old paths of Buddhism, as they have taken root in Western society. It has led to welcome developments in Psychology and Psychiatry, to effective measures for taming the mind, to new points of contact between science and religion, to the growth of a non-theistic path for the development of spiritual practice. As one who must admit to being a secular Buddhist I’d say the last is probably the one that attracts Westerners most; to make a new try for spiritual inner harmony for those who find little credibility and meaning in Western religion.

I particularly value the aphorism, “You have no control over what happens to you, but you have absolute control over how you respond to it.” We live in a secular world, growing more secular with every breakthrough in education, but it need not inevitably lead to a world without the sacred. Walking on water may or may not be accepted as a miracle, but the fact that we are walking on the Earth is the operation of an ineffable mystery.

The teachings that mind and body are indivisible and both sacred, and that the mind is the source of all our suffering seem enough to me to follow the path to conquering ones ego. Meditation can be learned as a method of conquering stress as well as a way to freedom from Earthly imprisonment. If one remembers mindfulness, the living in the present, as the way to make all our actions part of the path toward freedom from personal and culturally derived suffering—whether washing the dishes or scraping the dried masking tape off the glass—then every moment of our lives can be devoted toward living in a safer, kinder, more just world.


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