When people think of zen images, they think of calm, clutter free, soothing spaces.
That is not me.
I am messy and hurried. I leave a flurry of lights on and opened cabinet drawers behind me after each activity.
But I practice something different. At my zen center we call it “work practice.” But my priest friend, Taizan Alford, shared with me from Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York that there they call it “care taking practice.”
Which is perfect.
Caretaking practice is a kind of meditation. I usually set a timer. 30 minutes is good. Then, I take care of my home and the Earth.
During caretaking practice, I don’t listen to podcasts on my headphones. I try to focus completely on what I am doing. I breathe in and out and feel the soft, worn cloth of my old pajamas, as I fold them and place them into a drawer, shutting it with both hands.
Focusing on my breath, while I am doing caretaking practice, is important. Otherwise, I start thinking about other things. and get distracted.
However, I will inevitably start thinking about other things and get distracted. That is not failing at caretaking practice. The aspiration is to notice this and go back to my breath.
When, I do caretaking practice, I am not doing it to hurry up and attain a clean house. Instead, I am doing it to take care of each thing that I touch.
Gently lining up shoes in the closet.
Deliberately wiping the crumbs off a counter.
Feeling the warm bubbles as I wash a pan.
Sometimes, I do caretaking practice with my children, which can be a challenge.
I say things like, “Push in the chair like a Buddha” a lot. That means “Softly, lift the chair so it does not scrape against the floor.”
Sometimes, they get irritated of frustrated. I breathe in and out and try not to react. My aspiration is to take care of what is in front of me no matter what else is happening.
When I do caretaking practice, I try to take care of the whole world. I compost. I wash out sandwich bags so they can be reused instead of throwing them away. I clean with vinegar.
Caretaking practice calms me down and centers me. It is beautiful.