Can you imagine being completely present as you move through your most mundane, ordinary daily chores? Among the many tools we offer for conscious living, is the mindful practice of sensory awareness.
For me, this is a most useful practice for actually living in extended moments of presence—even a whole day—by paying impeccable attention from one moment to the next and using my senses to do it.
Below is a memorable experience of this degree of presence from my time as a Zen student many years ago, while practicing the simple act of sweeping.
Sweeping the Floor
I close my hands around the broomstick and feel a cool sensation and the pull of gravity as I lift the broom in the air. I survey my task at hand—the porch wrapping around the meditation hall.
I place the broom bristles on the deck floor and hear them brush along the surface in what, before, was an unconscious motion.
Now I notice that one hand pushes the handle in one way while the other pulls in the opposite direction. That’s what makes sweeping happen.
I notice the gathering of dust and sand brought on deck by the many shoed feet, before sandals are discarded at the door of the meditation hall.
I notice the breeze wants to push back the particles where I’ve swept and I decide to start at the other end of the deck, so as to sweep with, rather than against, the wind.
I feel my weight shifting from foot to foot as I head to the other end of the porch while noticing knot holes, that look like eyes in the floorboards, as I pass over them.
I hear the river behind the hall, creating a rhythm as it tosses and turns on its path downhill. I tune my broom to the rivers’ heartbeat and dance with sweeping moves across the floor.
An Awesome Surprise
I notice a Zen-mate standing in my way with her back to me. Honoring our vow of silence, I gently touch the back of her foot with my broom, rather than say excuse me. She turns around and makes eye contact, for the first time all week.
She is the person who sits next to me in zazen, yet I have never seen her face. Her kind eyes are a brilliant cat’s-eye-green and her smile a surprise—because emotions and expressions have been restricted and all eyes have been focused downward.
Such a momentary connection after a week of going within makes the act of connecting more poignant, like the first taste of fruit after a long fast.
I’m aware that all moments of connection with others, even a momentary glance, could always feel this precious and this profound if both people are present.
I continue sweeping, noticing the brushing sound on the deck floor, feeling the breeze, hearing the river toss and turn.
The idea is that in anything you’re doing—washing dishes, showering, brushing your teeth, driving to work—you can have this level of presence by paying attention to your senses from one ordinary moment to the next.
Ah, Hannah. Quite wonderful. I pause, feeling my fingers on the keyboard, my eyes on the screen but also “seeing” you sweeping the deck, and I am almost hearing the sound of the breeze, the tumbling river. Thank you.
Thank you for your response, Elyn. Nice to have you join me.