Sometimes, world-renowned meditation teachers can give unfortunate advice.

Posted Sep 06, 2019

Pema Chödrön— the first American Buddhist nun—had a dream, and her dream irritated me… mindfully.

In her book, When Things Fall Apart, she relates:

“Once I dreamt that I was getting a house ready for Khandro Rinpoche.  I was rushing around cleaning and cooking.  Suddenly her car drove up, and there she was with her attendant.  As I ran up and greeted them, Rinpoche smiled at me and asked, “Did you see the sun come up this morning?” I answered, “No, Rinpoche, I didn’t.  I was much too busy to see the sun.” She laughed and said, “Too busy to live life!”

Excuse me?  

Perhaps it is my simple misinterpretation, but I believe Pema is implying with her dream-story that you are missing out on life when you do not see the sunrise each day.  I hope I read her message correctly:  I agree and think it would be great if we would take the time to “smell the roses.”  We can sometimes get very caught up in the rat race, the grind, and the mindless pursuit of the next meager gratification coming from checking chores off the to-do list. But here’s the thing….

What if the grind is something that contributes to purposeful living?  What if Pema truly valued hosting a pleasant visit for Khandro Rinpoche, so the morning was filled with cleaning and cooking?  Wouldn’t it actually be a distraction—even a misuse of her time—if she diverted her attention to the sunrise?  Now you might gasp at the prospect of prioritizing housework over viewing a new day dawning, but I will promote and congratulate such dedication to one’s own vitality.  The sun rises every single day, but this visit from a revered spiritual leader might be a once-in-a-lifetime!  

I witness many mindful meditators ironically slipping into judgementalism when talking about how people can become mindless.  I realize this was just Pema’s dream, but she included it in her book to convey a point: Not taking time to watch the sunrise means you are too busy to live life. I disagree.

My point is that cleaning and cooking are living life, too.  This story lays a gentle guilt trip on us if we focus on chores.  But what if your chores lead you to live in a peaceful, connected, and loving manner?

If you chose to behave mindfully throughout your life, please consider this invitation:  As you act mindfully, do so in a way that prioritizes what you care about.  Focus on the present moment for what it means to you personally, and not to avoid feeling guilt imposed by someone else’s judgments.

References

Chödrönm P, (2016).  When things fall apart.  Shambhala Publications