In monastery, all visitors and monastics practice the Eastern custom of removing their shoes before entering a meditation hall. At a retreat I recently attended, a tai chi student told me, “My master said that you can always tell the level of a person’s consciousness by the way they leave their shoes at the door.” When I left the hall, I surveyed the long line of shoes outside the door. Most of them were lined up neatly next to one another. Then there were mine, criss-crossed and strewn out of line. Oops!
Heaven is gained or lost not just by dramatic deeds, but by the little acts of daily living. A Zen maxim states: “If you can serve a cup of tea correctly, you can do anything,” meaning that we can use any mundane act as a meditation to create harmony and beauty. The Japanese have an elaborate ancient tea ceremony in which the server must be very present and conscious of every minute act that comprises the ritual.
I heard a talk by a man who knew Suzuki Roshi, a master who popularized Zen in the West. “Everything Roshi did was a meditation,” the man recounted. “Once I watched him eat an apple. By the time he had gotten to the core, the apple was clean and sculpted. All sides were perfectly balanced, and there was no waste. It was a piece of art. ”
We can make our life a work of art by paying attention to the details of daily living. Let everything be a dance in which we create poise and grace. It’s the highest game there is.