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Life at a Zen monastery is very much about simplicity in everyday tasks. Our meditation hall has a bare wood floor with rows of square cushions (zabuton in Japanese), each with another, round cushion on top (a zafu). Before we enter, shoes go on a rack or the floor: neatly placed in a row, facing in. No personal belongings there or in the hall: neither socks, hats, books, nor water bottles. If it’s chilly, people take a blanket to wrap around shoulders and knees, remembering to fold and put it away afterwards. 

Before leaving, we kneel towards the cushions, align them with others, and brush away specks of dust. We bow from the hips, palms together: this seat is not longer mine, thank you for supporting my practice. The state of your cushion reflects your state of mind, we’re taught early on; also Leave no trace.

As I clear out my old home, I feel overwhelmed by all the stuff that has to be thrown out, given away, or recycled. Poor me: with a fractured hand and separated shoulder. And then I imagine those who’re waiting to make this their home and work turns into an act of service: it’s no longer mine or about me. May they be happy here.

In meditation, you unclutter and clarify your mind. As you unclutter your mind, you’ll find it easier to unclutter your space. As you clarify your mind, you’ll find it easier to clarify your priorities. … There is a lightness and freedom that comes with letting go.

source: Birx, E. & C. (2005). Waking up together: intimate partnership on the spiritual path. Somerville, MA: Wisdom  Publications, p. 154. images (top): Zen Mountain Monastery, near Woodstock, NY; (bottom): large hand-crafted dining/work table with bench in my old home: for sale to a good home.

4 responses »

  1. ah, we are in the same process of uncluttering and it is an interesting process to watch. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by stuff, sometimes it feels good to be clearing it out. And sometimes when I start to radically purge, I draw back thinking maybe I might want or need this stuff one day. And all along I do wonder “why do we need more stuff than seems possible to use on a daily basis?”

    We are such a “stuff” culture. I think we are protecting ourselves with stuff, trying to make ourselves comfortable, hoping the stuff will do it for us. We are, I think trying to protect ourselves from the inevitable(sickness, old age & death) on some level and gain control over our environment.

    Here’s to living with less stuff!

    • Cheers to stuff, cheers to no stuff. Never enough of either. Thank you, Carole. I’ve noticed paralells before: cleaning house, you moving to and me from an island, all of us bumping into obstacles, obstacles teaching us. may you be happy.

  2. In my morning writings, what flowed out was ‘be clear & the channel will open’….and then i opened your blog and the key word was clarity…these teachings will be with me today..thank you.


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