The Zen of Sweeping

Wooden floors need a lot of sweeping.

Initially I mentally groan at the thought of it. The effort of getting the broom out, lifting the rugs, moving the furniture and actually using my body on such a seemingly mundane act. But once I’ve started, I almost relish it. When I’m in the middle of it, swooshing the dirt across the floor into a neat pile I start to feel relaxed and almost at peace as I navigate the dirt around and gently get into those nooks and crannies. Its a matter of remembering to do it though, and actually getting started when I do realise that the floor needs sweeping (which seems to be quite often, almost daily, with wooden floors).

When I am in the process of sweeping, (if I haven’t caved in to using the vacuum cleaner with its noisy mechanical whirring), its almost a Zen activity. As I progress through the task, I feel my mind coming into a place of quiet contemplation. With each stroke of the soft brushes on the wooden floor, I am lulled into a place of no-thing-ness. That place that Osho talks of. The space between the exhale and the inhale.

There’s a Zen proverb that goes: “before enlightenment; chopping wood, carrying water, after enlightenment; chopping wood, carrying water”. I often remind myself of this when I get to a point where I start feeling like I want to run off and live in an ashram in India, or a hut in the hills of Northern Thailand. At those times when I feel that I cannot possibly be a spiritual being and still live in the world with all its needing and prodding and poking. When my mind feels tormented and I remember longingly the bliss I felt during that 10 day silence during my Vipassana retreat, I think of that proverb and remember that even the Buddha chopped wood and carried water, and lived in the world. Then I remember that that is what life is about, doing all these small things, but remaining in a state of mindfulness while doing it. This is the essence of enlightenment, mindfulness. Neither having craving, nor aversion to anything I do, but just being present with myself in each moment.

This is why I think sweeping is such a Zen act. It is like meditation. It brings the mind back into itself in a way that vacuuming cannot do. It focusses the mind into that smaller space, into the tiny specks of dirt, in the same way that the anapana breathing, of Vipassana meditation, brings the awareness of mind to that tiny triangle at the entrance of the nose. Fine tuning the mind.

The Zen of Sweeping


4 thoughts on “The Zen of Sweeping

  1. Love this. I feel the same way about doing the dishes.. I mistake what I see needs doing for the task itself, and I resent it, but once I begin, I usually enjoy it. Warm water, simple action, clean dishes, breathing 🙂

  2. nice one, Natty . . .
    um, . . .is it permitted to do Vipassana more than once?? If so, then you’d need no more to do “longing” . . .

    • Hi J, yes it is permitted to do it more than once, but its a matter of logistics for me, and all things needing to be in correct alignment for me to be able to pull it off. Planning to look into it actually and attempt to connect the dots…

  3. This is WONDERFUL! I’m always telling people to ‘chop wood, carry water’!
    I’m only just re-learning i need to follow that advice myself!
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and thank you for it!

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