My weekly column for your reading pleasure. Some of you will recognize it as a longer version of a blog I did a few days ago:
“I do not understand how a poem can be better than a peppermint plant.” ~ thich nhat hanh
Perspective is that illusive entity that helps us make sense out of the events of our lives, or, at the very least, gives us a proportion by which to measure those things. thich nhat hanh puts life so in perspective for me. Sometimes I do not appreciate the beauty in everyday things and tasks—okay, most of the time, I do not appreciate the beauty in the everyday—but his thoughts in this poem, found in a short chapter in his book “moments of mindfulness” help me to see tasks as more than necessary evils, and value the things in life I take so for granted:
Planting a seed
washing a dish,
and cutting the grass
are as eternal,
as writing a poem.
I do not understand
how a poem can be better
than a peppermint plant.
I do agree with him wholeheartedly about the “planting a seed” thing, and even the “cutting the grass” thing, but I will need more convincing on the “washing a dish thing”. I have to admit that I do not embrace the beauty of everyday tasks, and need a little “mindfulness” to convince me. I find the term “mindfulness” somewhat annoying in that it has become somewhat of a clichéd watchword, but if you define it as awareness or thoughtful consciousness then it becomes a clearer destination, rather than a muddy journey.
Everyday tasks are an inevitable part of the human condition. Taking a page out of thich nhat hanh’s book and giving those tasks the same weight as the things we deign as more “important” is one way of gaining a new perspective or way of looking at things.
Hanh evaluates the seemingly unimportant as significant, and heightens trivial chores to a loftier plane. So the washing of dishes becomes just as important, just as beautiful in its own way as something considered more creative.
We label things, and put them in columns or charts and graphs—quantifying them, thereby taking away their essence. I have always found labels wanting, never quite a good fit, just as hanh finds it difficult to see why writing a poem is better than a peppermint plant. I guess it all comes down to the fact that you cannot compare apples and oranges—each is distinct and unique in colour and flavour, in shape and size. Even comparing apples to apples is a dangerous thing—there are so many different kinds, shapes, sizes and colours that grouping them as one entity misidentifies their individuality. We do this with people too—we group them together by colour, language, economics, and heritage, without looking below the surface and seeing each person’s singularity. I am not my white skin, my English language, my age, my job, or IQ score. I am a bundle of all these things—a supersized combo (with pickles) if you will.
Zen Master, teacher, advocate of peace, human rights and justice, nhan sums us up accurately in the last tiny chapter in his book by writing:
We are the children of the Earth
and not separate from the soil,
and the sky,
we share the same destiny.
And that, dear readers, puts it all in perspective for me. Even when we are relegated to cutting the lawn, doing the dishes, or writing a poem.