You can imagine that I slept like a baby last night, after passing the exam I’ve been studying for since May. The majority of each week, for the last 20 weeks, has been spent preparing for this (thankfully) one-time feat. (Not to mention the 8+ years of specialized training in my profession prior to that.) I woke up this morning wondering what to do with myself. So, I fed Amelia, fed myself, and sat in meditation for an hour. As I’ve done each day for the past five weeks.
Yesterday I read an article about soji, a silent work period. Per this article, soji is a short period of practice that takes place in Zen temples in which everyone spends 20 minutes performing their assigned cleaning task. When the ending bell rings, they move on to the next part of their day. The task is left where they’ve finished it. Perhaps completed, perhaps not.
This idea was intriguing, given my current situation. Much of my time mapped out the past several months, spent preparing for a high-stakes task that had to be completed by a certain date. That was yesterday. Today, now there is unplanned time and no clear goal to work toward.
Also, spending so much of each day studying left little time for other things. I’ve inadvertently built up a four-month backlog of cleaning and errands. How to wrap the mind around where to begin? Soji.
I set the timer for 20 minutes and began with the dishes. I started slowly, noticing the temperature and pressure of the water pouring onto the plate. I remembered the drought in California and turned it off until I was ready to rinse the sinkful of washed dishes. I caught myself having turned the activity into a chore—attacking the build-up on bowl with mindless zeal. And I took breath and returned to gently attending to the task at hand. The bell rang, and I left the remaining dishes in the sink.
What a shift it was to pick up an activity, be present with it, then just put it down!
The next 20 minutes, I turned my attention to the shelves piled with books transplanted from my old office at the end of last spring’s semester. Sorting with mindful awareness changed this long-avoided activity remarkably. Some books were easily and quickly classified – keep, donate. Others presented more of a challenge. So I sat with the book, recalling its contents, what I’ve learned from it, expressing gratitude for the time we’ve spent together. Then I let it go.
The piles completed, 6 minutes remained on the timer. So I sat.
What can the practice of soji teach you?