I have to admit that there is a lot to like about this little book.
When it first arrived and I looked at the clean type face, the white jacket, and saw how thin it was at only 144 pages, I feared the worst. Within 30 seconds I had convinced myself that this was just another self-help book by a monk who is now not a monk, but instead works his way round America giving talks about how cleaning your house is going to transform your life, and making few million in the process.
It turns out it it wasn’t like that at all.
Shoukei Matsumoto is a real life Shin-Buddhist monk at the Komyoji Temple in Kamiyacho, Tokyo. His primary role at the temple is quite a modern one – helping to rebuild the traditional Buddhist way of life using social media to reach out to disaffected youth who feel little connection to their grandparents way of life. But, like all other monks at the Temple, his day begins and ends with cleaning:
In this Japanese best-seller, Matsumoto guides us through cleaning from a monks perspective, where cleaning is an important ritual that happens on a daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal and yearly basis. He draws our attention to how cleaning, rather than being a chore, is an opportunity to reflect and to clear the mind of all the dust and debris that collects there. He guides us through how each room should be cleaned, how we should clean ourselves, and how through the act of cleaning:
We remove dust to sweep away our worldly cares. We live simply and take time to contemplate the self, mindfully living each moment. It’s not just monks that need to live this way. Everyone in today’s busy world needs it.
While some of it, at least in my house, is never going to happen in a million years, such us cleaning the toilet to within an inch of its life, “leaving not even a fingerprint behind,” a lot of what he says does make sense. Through cleaning he encourages us to bring fresh air into our homes, to have more respect for our surroundings and the things we own, and to have more respect for ourselves, “I hope readers will discover that daily housework is an opportunity to contemplate the self”.
So I’ve given at least the gist of it a go, and the truth is that I have begun to think differently about cleaning, and about myself. Each morning I let some fresh air into my house as I pop the kettle on, I catch myself putting things away rather than letting them just sit gathering dust, washing is done as loads form, and I try to leave things tidy(ish!) before I go to bed. I’m even beginning to look at my possessions in a new way, thinking that maybe it’s time for some of them to move on to a new home where they will be used and loved, rather than sat gathering dust in mine.
At a guess, this new way of approaching cleaning has added 20 minutes on to my day, but it has ended up saving me 120 minutes of work on Saturday PLUS the time I spend beating myself up because the house looks and feels messy. An unexpected side effect is that the housework no longer feels like a chore, it’s now a time-saving activity that makes me feel better about myself. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not sure that I will ever be able to describe my home as ‘a refuge from today’s busy world”, and it has only been a couple of weeks, but my house is a little cleaner and more importantly my mind feels a little cleaner too. For my money it’s worth a read just for that.
A Monks Guide to a Clean House and Mind, £4.99, Penguin Books – available from all good book sellers.