Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Life is in the details keeps dancing around my head today. And when I used my trusty Google search to find out who said it... I came up short.

Instead... I found a beautiful quote that is even more eloquent on the matter (and may actually be where the shorter version came from):

"A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth. The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water. Even so, life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts. And the consequences whether good or bad of even the least of them are far-reaching."

It's attributed to Sivananda (Google search...), a Hindu swami and spiritual leader. Oddly enough (or perhaps not so oddly), it ties in not only to the post I intended to write today, but also to a blog post shared on Facebook by a friend of mine discussing morality as separate from religion. (Perhaps for another time!)

The reason I've been thinking about details is twofold. The first connects to something our instructor emphasized last week at the introductory meditation course I am taking. The second has to do with parenting a toddler.

For the former: Our teacher was talking about how one aspect of Zen relates to paying more attention to the little details of life. Straightening your cushion and mat for the next person who may come to the space. Making sure the faucet is completely turned off in the bathroom so as not to waste water. Placing your shoelaces inside your shoes when you put them on the shelf near the door. Listening - really listening - when another person is speaking.

This sort of list is rather infinite. And her suggestion that we pay attention (really pay attention) to the details in our life this week was an opportunity for daily reflection and an increased awareness of the many details I take for granted or allow to become a sort of impressionistic blur in the background of what I deem most pressing.

She said there is an idea in Zen Buddhism to leave it as you found it. In other words... your footprint in any given place - on any given spot - should be a rather small one. Difficult to discern and created with a sort of careful neutrality that is neither overly sentimental nor crassly indifferent.

It reminded me of camping and Smokey the Bear. The concept of leaving no trace when you enter some lovely spot of nature so that the next person who comes through can discover it just as you did. Unspoiled... authentic... perfect in its simplicity.

Now that I think of it, Smokey was really more for forest fires... so perhaps the "no trace" idea was connected to some other remnant of 70s educational programming. But whatever the source, it's an idea I've sought to embrace in my adult life. (Not always easy, of course, nor practical... but certainly something to aspire to.)

I make my bed every morning. For a while it was because my mother told me to... because not to do so resulted in negative consequences and disliked ramifications. But now, at age 36, I make it because I want to. I like having a nice, unspoiled surface to enter into at night. I love the little thrill of peeling back the covers... slipping my feet and legs in... and melting into the bed that has been waiting for me - in a state of wonderful readiness - all day. It's delicious.

Let's skip back to the second reason I am thinking about details today: my daughter. My daughter does not yet make her own bed. She likes to keep her room in a state of chaos... a sort of scattershot bedlam that leaks out into the other living spaces of our tiny apartment.

Now - don't get me wrong - I love our tiny apartment. We are enjoying our smaller space and are eager to embrace the possibilities of further simplification as we commit to life on a more realistic and manageable scale. BUT... the clutter connected to the playful wanderings of a three year old can sometimes be astounding.

And so... I have been wrestling, of late, with an interconnected tangle of lessons and opportunities that now present themselves. How much do I clean up without her? What should be expected of her? Where is the line between my expectation of clean and the agreed upon definition of clean we all must share as a family? How does motherhood and childhood intersect with simplicity and responsibility to leave us all following a path of right action that is equal parts respectful and unattached?

That last one's the real kicker. I started reading a book today that ties in quite strongly with this aspect of my contemplation of detail. It's called Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood, and I already love it. I want to write the author and give it to every parent I know.

Anyway... I am still seeking the balance between being too attached to a particular expectation of how the many details of my life (our lives) should look... while remaining mindful of their importance and committing to careful consideration of how I can move through each day with a greater awareness of the details by which I am surrounded.

I might add to those earlier quotes in this way. Life is the details... the details you miss, the ones you forget, the ones that change everything, and the ones that are downright miraculous. To be truly present is to experience and attend to as many as you can without holding on so tightly you miss the next one.

May you notice a little detail today that used to be invisible to you. May you embrace your life - in its variegated, infinitesimal form - as it unfolds beneath all that is.

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