Dr Perpetua Neo

Read this when you feel bad for not sitting: Falling off the meditation bandwagon

He starred with a hybrid of bemusement and curiosity. “You’re so focused, it’s scary”. “Shh, it’s my meditation”, I said. Have you ever tried removing dried milk from a handheld milk frother? The wire slits are thin, coiled tightly, and the frother head’s circular. I’m rather adept at it. Still, the process takes 30 minutes, a sharp knife and lots of concentration. To me, the frother is everyday mindfulness.

When I was 19, I read this piece on chopping wood and carrying water.

“Even if you have the perseverance to sit for 9 years facing a wall, sitting is only one part of Zen. While cooking, washing dishes, sweeping, carrying water or chopping wood, you dwell deeply in the present moment. We don’t cook in order to have food to eat, we don’t wash dishes to have clean dishes. We cook to cook, and we wash dishes to wash dishes. The purpose is not to get these chores out of the way in order to do something more meaningful […] The practice of Zen is to eat, breathe, cook, carry water, and scrub the toilet— to infuse every act of body, speech and mind— with mindfulness, to illuminate every leaf and pebble, every heap of garbage, every path that leads to our mind’s return home.” -- Thich Nhat Hanh, Fragrant Palm Leaves

The first and only time I chopped firewood was on a mountain in Queensland when I was 14. I wasn’t very successful. I’ve never carried water. But what I’ve learned is that when I can remember to, I pay attention to my attention. Fast forward years later when I introduce mindfulness to my clients, I talk about something most of us do. Wash the dishes.

“What’s happening when you wash the dishes”, I ask. “Do you feel your hands touch the sponge, the coldness of your plates and spoons, the bubbling of the soap? The sound of the water running. Or, is your mind somewhere else?” Everyone’s told me, “Somewhere else”. Thinking about the past, solving a problem, worrying, musing about random subjects, languishing in a phantasy. We’re all some place other than washing the dishes. So much so that when we’re done, it’s quite shocking. It’s like realising you’ve just pulled into the carpark lot without knowing how you got home. But everyday practices of meditation can be mindfulness training. It’s about building those muscles. And it’s not just about sitting. 

And so every week, cleaning the frother is my meditation.

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