Cleaning the Corners
(By Grace Rollins, MS, LAc) I've practiced Zen for close to 20 years. Though the primary practice is seated meditation (Zazen), there is a lot more to it, even for a layperson like me. In the past I've traveled several times to a Zen monastery for special week-long formal trainings known as Sesshin. There I would practice Zazen, walking meditation, chanting, formal meals, strict etiquette, and cleaning. Yes, cleaning.
I was actually fond of the twice-daily cleaning periods during Sesshin because it let me move my body out of the sitting position I was in for so many hours of the day. Probably because I was among the younger and fitter, the monks usually assigned me to floor cleaning duty. In the common Japanese way this involved mopping the floor by hand using a zokin (cleaning rag). To clean the long monastery hallways I'd run in a crouch, pushing the zokin out in front of me in the traditional fashion. The faster, the better-- it was invigorating, and if I'll be honest my martial arts buddies and I were probably showing off to see who could finish their floor section first. Plus, if I finished my chores early, I could have a longer break before the next sit!
One evening I was cleaning the tile stairs that led up to the old head priest's quarters when I saw him coming up the stairs. I respectfully stepped aside but to my surprise he took the zokin right out of my hand and demonstrated how to properly clean the corners of the stairwell. In my haste I was being too sloppy, apparently, and he saw me missing the corners. "Clean even where no one can see it," he said to me.
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