The Clothes Hamper as Practice

This was written for the Phoenix Shambhala Center blog.

My name is Stuart, your Culture and Decorum representative, and I have a confession: I’m a very messy person. And I can also confess that it was my messiness that, in a Shambhala sense, provided an opportunity for wakefulness and for an on-going practice of kindness.

A few years ago, when my husband Patrick was my boyfriend and we were living together in his condo, I came home from work as I normally do. I walked in, greeted Patrick, and wandered back to our bedroom, where I proceeded to change clothes and toss my work clothes at the clothes hamper. Not in it, at it — where they promptly landed on the floor. When I exited the bedroom I found a very unhappy Patrick. He said, with hurt, “I spent the whole day cleaning and you can’t even put your clothes in the hamper.” I was temporarily stunned by his reaction, my action, and my lack of attention to how hard he had worked to uplift our mutual space.

For me that incident was an opportunity of being wakeful and kind in everyday life — an opportunity I missed (like the hamper). As the Culture and Decorum representative, my role is to help our center reflect the dignity and energy of the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo’s court. This dignity can manifest in many ways, but one of the primary ways is helping us see how the little things matter and can be a practice of kindness: putting the dishes away, emptying the trash, straightening our cushion after we sit, putting things back the way we found them. Of course, this also extends to our own households — which is the point of culture and decorum practice. Wakefulness and kindness is washing the dishes, thanking someone for bringing you a cup of water, arranging your food in an artful way.

It’s easy to see these things as frivolous—how are we going to create enlightened society with a well-designed fruit plate? The point is not that the fruit plate is well-designed; the point is that the well-designed quality arises from basic goodness and a respect for our space and others. Everyday tasks become a way to practice when we approach them as practice. While we have to watch out for neurosis — chastising people for not cleaning up, making demands, or mistaking artfulness as the end and not the means — encouraging ourselves and others to create uplifted space can be the way in which we see our meditation practice bear fruit.

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