Thursday, March 07, 2013

Wash Your Bowl

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)


  1. Oh, I like this. So simple, so effective. I'm constantly guilty of leaving my bowl instead of washing it. Maybe I should print this, frame it, and hang it by my sink!

    Also, fun fact: mnmlist and zenhabits are written by the same guy!

    1. Ha! I think I knew they were the same blogger at some point. No wonder "wash your bowl" appears on both blogs so often!

  2. I've never seen this before, but I really like it! I need to learn from it and finish what I start.

  3. Another lovely and thought-provoking post, my dear. I think the metaphor of "wash your bowl" speaks to the heart of why we strive for habits and routine: because they give our lives structure and ensure that we are getting the most important things done. If eating well and cooking at home are a big part of a good life, then washing your bowl is a small step toward greatness.

    Interestingly, as I've been contemplating the possibility of unemployment (I'm calling it "my gap year!"), the thought of making elaborate, delicious meals is so appealing. So is the thought of slowing down for a while--both for my sanity and so I have time to really THINK about what I want to do with my life.

    PS I've missed checking in on you here! xoxo

    1. I <3 habits and routine, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. :)

      I like the idea of a gap year! What a positive spin to put on it. Who knows - it could be your best year yet!

      PS I missed you too! I hope this means your laptop is back.