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.

Not Quite Philosophy 101

“Live well. Laugh often. Cook Much.”
-The Farm Chicks

Sum up your philosophy of life in a few words. The Farm Chicks, Serena Thompson and Teri Edward, authors of “The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen” did it quite succinctly—live well, laugh often, cook much. Who doesn’t want to live well and laugh often? The last dual of words, cook much is their particular specialty. My philosophy is not quite as poetic and could even be called dull: get through the day. Now that may sound like a very workaday philosophy, somewhat uninspiring, and even dreary. But think about it. I did not say get through the day unscathed (although there are days that would be called successful if this were the only criteria.)

Getting through the day could include living well, laughing often, and if you are of a particular bent, cooking much. But it could also include that first cup of coffee in the morning and the morning paper. Or getting out there for a walk before the day’s work begins. I have a book of verses called “Present Moment Wonderful Moment” by Thich Nhat Hanh that celebrates every event of the day, from that first look in the mirror in the morning, to washing up and using the bathroom, to turning on your computer, using the telephone and even doing everyday chores.

Hanh says that, “Everyone has pain and suffering. It is possible to let go of this pain and smile at our suffering. We can only do this if we know that the present moment is the only moment in which we can be alive.” Obviously Thich Nhat Hanh is on a whole different plane or level of reality than I am (I have never been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as he has). Smiling at my suffering is not yet something I have under my belt, but I do adhere to his philosophy that the present moment is really the only moment we have—and that is what I mean by “get through the day.” Getting through the day does not have to be mindless (I tell myself this every time I do the dishes by hand, as currently my dishwasher is being used for storage).

He even has a verse for doing the dishes. He says that the idea of doing dishes is unpleasant when we are not doing them, but once we are standing in front of the sink with our sleeves rolled up and our hands in the warm water, it is really not bad at all. He calls this utilitarian activity “sacred”. I have a friend who for years has expounded on the joys of doing dishes—the comfort of the warm water and suds, the quiet time in the kitchen by herself as no one ventures into the room while she does the dishes for fear of having to help.
The simple morning ritual of washing your hands is beautifully painted by Hanh as thus:

Water flows over these hands
May I use them skilfully
To preserve our precious planet.
He takes a simple everyday activity and turns it into a “mindful” activity—reminding us not to spoil our environment, or the days of this simple act of clean water flowing over our hands to cleanse them are numbered.
Using the telephone can be more than just ordering pizza. He writes:
Words can travel thousands of miles.
May my words create mutual understanding and love.
May they be as beautiful as gems
as lovely as flowers.

Getting through the day can be a thoughtful, lovely thing.  At the end of the day, if we keep the following verse in mind, we have not lived for naught: “The day is ending, our life is one day shorter. Let us look carefully at what we have done. Let us practice diligently….let us live deeply each moment in freedom, so time does not slip away meaninglessly.” There is something to be said for living poetically: gracefully with rhythm in a world that often strikes a discordant note or two.

Published in: on August 25, 2011 at 12:37 am  Comments (2)  
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