“Some people vacation in Yellowstone, Aruba, or New Orleans… I went to Japan to clean toilets.” – Louise Rafkin
“Mindfulness, a relational quality that frees our attention from the grip of old habits.” Sharon Salzberg
WhatTheJules was host to earlier #Comit2Sit blogs that, in a bitter war with WordPress had to fall on their sword. This blog was in draft status and survived. Yay for mindfulness. And, who doesn’t want to read a blog about toilet cleaning, am I right?
In 1989, I read the article “A Yen For Cleaning” by Louise Rafkin. Ms. Rafkin decided to travel to a commune just outside of Kyoto called Ittoen. A friend of hers raised in The Ittoen Commune said it was “where toilet cleaning was considered a path to self-knowledge.” The Ittoen Community would not, I imagine, label itself as one that specifically practices Mindfulness. They use cleaning as a form of penitence and humility. I cannot, however, miss the acts of mindfulness in their practice.
When I read the article that spring I had never heard the word “Mindfulness”, but the idea of doing everyday tasks in a thoughtful, meditative way sounded right to me. I was intrigued enough by this story that I have told many people about these Zen “toilet cleaners” and have asked people to consider cleaning their metaphorical toilet slowly, thoughtfully: mindfully.
I often find myself surprised that I am 46 years old. I look back at periods of my life where I was living like the montage in the film adaptation of HG Wells “The Time Machine”. Rod Taylor sits in the machine as time passes. He sees time fly by from his window. The dress shop is his master calendar. He sees wars and ultimately the earth’s destruction and then a new world. He goes back, then ahead again saying he has “all the time in the world”.
If we do not slow down, if we do not pay attention, we are not much different from the man in the machine. Time passes with each season of “Scandal” or “How To Get Away With Murder”. We are like a woman I used to know a woman of whom I said, “she is the busiest woman I have ever met that gets nothing done.”
The slowest times of my day are those times that I pay attention. When I meditate at dawn, or before bed. When I sit down and listen to my heartbeat. When I walk down the street or the on the sand and just breathe. When I count my steps or the roll and crash of the waves. That is when I get the most done. That is when I find my center. It is then that pain and anxiety drift away, stress and tightness disappear. It is then that I can see what I am doing.
Toilet cleaning isn’t my thing, but when I do dishes, stir a sauce, wash my hands, even when I brush my dogs I pay attention. I learned a great traffic meditation from Lama Surya Das in his book “Buddha Standard Time“. There is always time for mindfulness. In life, I have learned to slow down. I take my time because I have “all the time in the world.”
Take an old habit, slow it down, make it something new.
(Note: The article and this commune moved me in such a way that I cannot count the number of times I have thought of the story or the number of times I have told their story. I have long since lost my copy of that Spring 1989 Tricycle Edition, and it has taken me until last early February 2016 to find the correct search string for it to pop up.)