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 beautiful,
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,
the forests,
the rivers,
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.

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20 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This one is a keeper for me LouAnn..thank you..

  2. Very nice post. I guess I’ve always enjoyed certain domestic tasks- even as a kid I found contentment doing them. But it’s such an individual thing- there are plenty of things I do not enjoy doing, like redecorating, sewing, crafts, things like that. I don’t really enjoy gardening, although I wish I did. So I understand why some people would dislike washing dishes or cleaning or doing laundry, even though I find peace while doing these things.
    I’m wondering if you can learn to like certain tasks, or if they will always seem like a chore. Somehow it seems worse to pretend that you like them, or feel guilty about it!

    • there are some tasks I like and some I don’t but to say I “enjoy” them might be going a step too far for me–but I think anything that gives us contentment is more than worthwhile

  3. Well said Lou.

  4. Loved this! I have read every single one of his books, some of them several times. Good stuff. He has a monastery in Vermont and it would be a dream of mine to go there one day for a retreat.

  5. Simply and perfectly said (written) Lou. I just watched a program on mindfulness today. Even did a small meditation. The simple act of consciously choosing to stop, hear and feel your breath, and realize things are as they should be does wonders for worries.

    I read a quote a few days ago that said something like: The secret to having it all is realizing you already do.

    You are a wonderful writer and this post came directly from your sweet soul. Loved this. Thank you.

    • Thanks so much Brigitte–I love how you put you in your comments–you always add something beautiful and worthwhile
      Always happy to get a visit from you and I love the quote you provided re the secret to having it all is realizing you already do – perfect!

  6. Excellent perspective! Although I, too, will have a bit of trouble with the washing the dishes part. 🙂

  7. We were studying the idea of consciousness in uni the other day, so this is very interesting – we need to look at our tasks in perspective. And we are predisposed to labelling, even though we shouldn’t!

    Choc Chip Uru

  8. Waking up fresh this morning (and ignoring my alarm clock) has already given me better perspective today. And now this post is the icing on the cake. I always love when your posts coincide with how I feel since it also means we’re on the same wavelength more often than not. 😉 Have to agree with you though, I’m still a little skeptical on the washing a dish thing. It’s a necessary evil sure, but that’s about as pleasant as I will be about it.

    • we are so on the same page much of time though decades separate us–it should teach both of us that age means nothing–and doing dishes is the pits no matter how old you are!
      good luck with your dissertation!

      • I keep waiting for the moment when I turn a magic age where I’ll no longer hate the dishes. Clearly I should stop getting my hopes up. Thank you for the good wishes! 🙂

      • some of us are just going to have to find peace in other ways-lol

  9. Most tasks don’t bother me and I quite enjoy them especially those chores and tasks that need done outdoors. Dishes I will put off as long as possible simply because I tell myself I don’t like doing them. Funny thing is that even after all these years once I start the dishes I rather enjoy the process and seeing the kitchen becoming tidy again makes it all the more worthwhile. What I can’t figure out is why after 50 years I still think I don’t enjoy doing the dishes. 😉 Now vacuuming is one chore I do dislike. Yes, just like the dishes I like the finished look, but it’s the noise I dislike. It’s the same with power tools, lawnmowers and anything else that masks the normal daily sounds.

  10. I do so love washing dishes. Have never invested in a dishwasher because how could a dishwasher make you feel so good as the soap and bubbles? Having said that, there have been many times when mindfulness simply deserts. I long after mindfulness because it’s given so much. Enjoyed reading this post so much, LouAnn

    • I am glad you enjoyed it–I just recently got a dishwasher and find a certain mindfulness in loading it just right so that I can get as many dishes as possible in it but not so many that they are crowded–I find the organization upsets chaos nicely

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