I can't remember where I originally read this - it was some time last week, during an Internet Bender, wherein a user clicks link after link, with no idea where she's going or how she got there. Usually this sort of bender ends with hours lost and the feeling of profound confusion. Sometimes it yields life changing advice. Last week, it was the latter. When I went back to find the original source, I discovered that many people had written about it, linked to it, and felt changed by it, which was not surprising.
What is it? Simply, this:
A monk told Joshu, "I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me."
Joshu asked, "Have you eaten your rice porridge?"
The monk replied, "I have eaten."
Joshu said, "Then you had better wash your bowl."
At that moment the monk was enlightened.
You're probably thinking, "WTF?" Also, possibly, that I have been doing too much yoga, or drinking too much wine. While both those things are true, hear me out. I like this little story, and I like it a lot. It speaks so much to what I'm striving for, right down to the word I chose to represent 2013 - present. At the same time, it goes just beyond that present moment. It is, to me, about finishing the things we start (always an issue), of personal responsibility (wash your own damn bowl), of putting an end to procrastination (why is this so difficult?), of mindfulness, of doing one thing at a time and doing it well.
I also love the metaphor of washing a bowl. In my world, the kitchen is the heart of my house. I have a hard time focusing if I know there are dirty dishes piled in the sink, or crumbs scattered across the counter, or tomato sauce dried to the stove top. It's no coincidence that the kitchen descends into this state when Nathan and I are really busy, rushing from one task to the next, living our lives on the surface because that's all we have time for. The dirty kitchen then becomes a vicious cycle - I don't want to cook anything because the kitchen is a mess, so we go out for food, spending money we don't have, which makes us feel stressed about our finances, which requires us to work more hours, which leaves less time for cleaning the kitchen. Okay, so it's not quite that linear, but you get the idea. A dirty kitchen is a bad thing at the Henneward house, indicative of deeper issues. And while a clean kitchen doesn't mean our lives are perfect (ha!) it is a step in the right direction.
Ever since I read that little story, I've been thinking of it each time I approach a task, whether it's reading a book, or working at the wine store, or running five miles, or responding to emails, or writing a scene, or, yes, eating breakfast and washing my bowl. And it's helped me focus and see things through, stay present and mindful while I rush a little less through life. Plus my kitchen has been spotless for days, and that alone is worth thinking about.
Other people washing their bowls:
zenhabits (he mentions this concept often)
mnmlist (silly name, interesting blog)
wikipedia (the true meaning of the story, whatever that means)