I’m by no means an expert, I’ve only had one trip to Japan, but it was enough to leave a lasting impression on me. Observing the culture, even briefly, gave me ideas on how to live with more consideration at home. There were three things in particular that stayed with me long after my plane landed back in Perth.
To quiet your mind, keep your hands busy
I spent an afternoon exploring just a few of Kyoto’s 1500 temples, many of them home to beautifully curated gardens created by artisans and zen monks. I noticed there weren’t many benches. I assumed there would be lots of spots to sit and take in the natural beauty. My guide explained, “the monks wouldn’t sit still and look out at the garden. They’d practise mindfulness by doing mundane tasks like picking up the leaves, or trimming the branches – there’s meditation in movement”. Traditional meditation – sitting still, trying to quiet the noise in our chattering mind – can be such a challenge. For me, the most powerful way to quiet my mind is when I’m doing something peaceful and repetitive. It’s the way I feel when I’m making pottery. When my hands are busy in the clay, my mind is quiet. I get a deep sense of calm from the motion of making a bowl. It’s this experience that I offer students in my mindful making workshops. Before visiting Japan, I'd see housework as such a bore, something bothersome that I had to get through. Now I see things like weeding the garden, chopping vegetables for dinner, or washing the dishes as opportunities to enjoy the mindfulness that comes with busy hands.
Take pleasure in the simple things.I didn't see any rubbish bins on the streets in Kyoto – they aren’t needed because most people aren’t eating on the go. I didn’t see any of the locals with a takeaway coffee or snack. It got me thinking about how we sacrifice moments of connection and beauty for the sake of convenience. We grab our coffee to go and drink it in the car on the way to work. There’s not much joy to be had in that compared to enjoying it slowly, over a conversation with a friend.
Even on the busiest, toughest days, if we can pause to appreciate these little moments it adds up to an overall feeling of contentment. If we’re too busy to notice the beauty in little moments throughout the day, we’re robbing ourselves.