How To Be Happier (According To A Buddhist Monk)
Photograph courtesy of Penguin
Mr Shoukei Matsumoto shares three ways in which cleaning can clear your mind.
January tends to be a month of self-improvement. Our plans often include some sort of fitness goal, perhaps a faddy diet, or a new way of organising our lives. In recent years, we’ve looked to the ancient Greeks and Romans for a dose of stoic philosophy, tried some extra-neat folding, courtesy of Ms Marie Kondo, and spent hours memorising the habits of successful people in order to be more efficient, effective and, well, happy. This year, however, it’s Zen monks who can offer us some life-changing wisdom to help us achieve a clear mind. How? Simply by cleaning.
Published earlier this month, A Monk’s Guide To A Clean House And Mind by Mr Shoukei Matsumoto, a Buddhist monk at Komyoji Temple in Kamiyacho, Tokyo, has become a bestseller in Japan, and provides a simple guide to scrubbing your way to enlightenment (with some fashion, grooming and dietary help along the way). Based on the day-to-day tasks in the monastery where he lives, Mr Matsumoto’s book distils ancient Zen teachings into easy adjustments that will help you to clear your house, head and heart and be at peace. Scroll down for a few tips on how you can clean up your act.
Mr Shoukei Matsumoto
Clean your house to clear your mind
In Buddhist monasteries, cleaning is the ultimate tool for “cultivating the mind”. Ancient teachings tell of one of Buddha’s disciples, who reached enlightenment by sweeping constantly, while chanting “Clean off dust. Remove grime.” The central tenet to this philosophy is that your relationship with your home, heart and mind are intrinsically linked, and therefore cleaning is a tool for eliminating gloom, staving off temptation and sweeping the cobwebs away. “If you live carelessly, your mind will be soiled,” writes Mr Matsumoto, “but it you try to live conscientiously, it will slowly become pure again.” Clean first thing in morning with the windows open to let the cold air clear the mind. Pay attention to your body when you’re cleaning as a method of focusing on the present, and be thankful to the things you discard for their service. This way, the act of cleaning becomes a little more meaningful. And if you’re struggling to concentrate or you find yourself slacking, assign the task greater metaphorical significance to power yourself on. “Why not polish the floor in your home as if you were polishing a mirror that will reflect your soul?” suggests Mr Matsumoto.
Update your wardrobe to refresh your heart
Since you’re reading this on MR PORTER, the idea of investing in new pieces each season is a concept you’re probably quite familiar with. In the monastery, dressing for the seasons helps the Zen monks to reset the mind and body for a new chapter. “If you don’t reflect the seasons in this way, you miss out on an important opportunity to refresh your heart, and put yourself at risk of having a lacklustre year,” says Mr Matsumoto. Stuck for a colour palette? Choose white. A fresh white shirt will help you feel open and pure and help draw in your feelings. The same goes for underwear, where the white will help “communicate to your body a feeling of cleanliness”. Ironing and washing are a crucial part of the day in the monastery, and should be in your home, too. Stains should cause you some distress, and therefore should be seen to immediately. “If you do not feel this way,” writes Mr Matsumoto, “it is a sign your heart is confused.” Similarly, failing to keep your clothes in their best state is, in Zen terms, to neglect your heart and open yourself to worldly desires, so make sure shoes are polished, any wear and tear is mended promptly and clothes are stored in an organised fashion, ideally in a paulownia wood wardrobe, according to Mr Matsumoto.
Wash your face to cleanse the soul
We’d hope you already do this. But taking the time to do so with a little more awareness can help you wash away negative thoughts and kickstart the day with a clean slate. “Cleansing your skin and purifying your mind before you face the day is the bedrock of common courtesy,” says Mr Matsumoto. The same principle applies to brushing your teeth and getting your hair cut. Rather than trimming your locks when they get a bit long, make a regular appointment, perhaps on days that end in 4 or 9, as the monks do. (The reason for this is unclear.) “Cutting your hair at regular intervals is a way to hone your self-discipline,” says Mr Matsumoto. Feeding the body should be considered a practice in self-awareness and gratitude, too. Try eating clean, fresh ingredients, up to the point of being 80 per cent full, to nourish the body without over-indulging. “Meals, manners and gratitude: put these elements together, and you too can live in harmony,” says Mr Matsumoto.