When None of Your Tools Work

Yoga, jogging, walking, meditating, or breath working; when none of that works, Do samu.

Samu can be anything to maintain the household… or templehold. When I used to live in a zen temple of a Rinzai sect, most of the day was dedicated to samu; from sweeping the garden, and plucking the weed, to swabbing the wooden floor with old towels.

This may contradict the image of “life in a zen temple”, which many associate with sitting in zazen.

Oshosama, the abbot, says “you can go further by practising samu, than sitting silent in zazen” drawing a quote from Hakuin (1686-1769).

Now that I’m back in my house in a mountain. My daily routine doesn’t necessarily incorporate samu.

Morning yoga followed by meditation is usually enough to set my mood. I feel lifted and clear, ready to get to work. 

One day, though, I really couldn’t bring myself to the computer. And the choice I had was either another bowl of cereal or going for a walk.

I went out of the house. I knew autumn leaves fell from my persimmon tree had to be taken care of. It was a long-overdue and never-ending mission. I picked up a bamboo broom and started sweeping. I began to sweat a little. A lady from the next door heard the noise and came out to sweep her street while having a morning chat.

30 minutes into the samu, my mind became clear. When I looked back at the space I swept, there was a sense of accomplishment, and even better, the idea for this blog post.

Is it the repetitive body movement that unclogs something stuck inside our system? Or the clear sign of progress leading to a sense of self-validation? …Or does just being in nature relax us…? Samu almost always works: it helps find a moment of clarity.

Do you have a garden? Any weeds to pluck around your house? I know it doesn’t sound sexy, but when nothing else works…

Do samu.

Read more of what Oshosama says


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