Zen's Window
Midway through washing the same window for a second time, Kousuke-san asked me,gDo you know what Zen is?hHonestly, I was absolutely ignorant on the matter. Having a western upbringing, Zen seemed foreign to the point of an unattainable mystery to me. Yet, I had a feeling that there was some higher reason to me cleaning the already seemingly crystal clear windows.
Thus, I replied, gZen zen wakarimasen (I have absolutely no idea).h
Expecting a complicated or abstract explanation, I was completely surprised by his reply, which was neither complicated nor unattainable.
gIma koko jikou (Live in the now).h
Human beings by nature are fixated by a constant plethora of thoughts: it's simply how we function. On reflection, this is probably what differentiates us from the other organisms on earth, the fact that we are always plagued by thoughts of the past and by occurrences that we cannot control.
While western beliefs tend to lie in the search for the spiritual and outer-body experiences, Zen runs completely counter to this. In the Zen belief, you are to completely embrace your existence in the present.
By washing that window with the fullest of my concentration, I would be living in that moment. I would be free of excess worries and the window I was washing could achieve a state of unparalleled cleanliness.
gThere are two things that are essential in this lesson: to thoroughly clean the window, and to monitor your breathing. The exhalation is more important than the inhalation. When you can clean a window to the point that your breathing has stopped and you do not notice, you are truly concentrating.h
With all this in mind, I re-cleaned all the windows to the point where I could no longer see a stain from whichever angle I looked. However, Kousuke-san could still spot a smudge or two. I have yet to learn a lot.
For the rest of the day, my brother and I weeded the pathway, and helped carry towels and other condiments to the other buildings.

Life on a Human Scale
Surrounded by a sea of tall weeds and scattered wheat, I experienced field farming for the first time. By crouching down and trampling on the weeds, we collected the wheat one stalk at a time and tossed them into a large box to be dried later. The weather was humid and
the work seemingly infinite, but despite the process appearing methodic, no two areas in the field were the same, and seeing the life thrive in that field was invigorating.
Often we seek and chase after worlds that challenge us to be impossible to the human eye, from the outskirts of space to the smallest of nanosystems. But why do we not explore what we have in front of us more? Why not enjoy what we can see on the human scale as we were intended to see? Why not notice the path of a single beetle or the lone stalk of wheat in a blanket of thick weeds?
At Suirin, they use no pesticides or fertilizer, choosing to use natural and organic alternatives such as vinegar, to ward away bugs, and decomposed fallen weeds, to use as compost instead. By letting the weeds grow alongside the wheat, it becomes easier for the farmer to simply leave the trampled weeds alone to decompose
for the next crop of wheat. Once the wheat is gathered, the farmers later on burn the field in order to help the ground germinate.

All Natural
Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to use mops or cleaning fluids to make the cleaning more efficient. Then again, the purpose of cleaning here is to concentrate on accomplishing one task at a time with the intent of doing the best job you possibly can. Like playing the violin, a person can make a decent sound by following all the steps, but it is when he starts to use his entire body in aiding his playing, from his breathing to the swaying movements of his torso, that he can produce a much richer and more beautiful sound. Therefore, by using a rag to scrub every inch of every chair, table and floor, a bigger sense of accomplishment is achieved.
I've also noticed that besides detergent, there are no unnatural products here. Everything is washed by water and barely anything else. And what is cleaned, is cleaned to a point of perfection and kept that way. I could probably never manage that back home. In retrospect, urban life is definitely ruled by synthetic and unnatural materials. While there are a few organic stores scattered around London and theyfre gaining popularity, there is definitely a greater demand for the fast and cheap over the natural and more expensive.

My mother always tries to buy organic food when possible, but often it's just simpler to go for the other option of nonorganic goods. However, organic food is gaining more international attention as more and more health documentaries reveal the impact that our food has on our bodies and well-being.

There's a lot to learn about hospitality. Teamwork is absolutely essential, from the way that the blankets are folded, to the final ceremonious goodbye in the driveway. Most establishments are microcosms of individual workers
with their own agendas and set duties. However, here, flexibility and the ability to start together and end together are crucial to success. Even if you are done, you should wait for the other people so that the community can come to a rest together.
My brother and I were completely perplexed by the attention that each folded towel and blanket was given. Surely, people wouldnft notice if one towel was crooked? However, when we went through the pile and redid our work, we noticed that the difference in professionalism, no matter how slight, had a monumental significance. And,
truly, I do feel appreciation for the person who folds my towel with so much caution, because they have spent a good portion of their time to ensure that I would be happy. Making people happy seems to be a very important aspect here. In most other places, priorities shift towards simply doing a task to be rid of it. This is a change.

The last of the weekend guests start to pack their bags and in small groups of newfound friendships, depart. On reflection, I've gained a new peace within myself. The constant worries and pressures of everyday life are still there, but they've reinforced my
realization that if you see all your tasks and troubles as a dark mass, it becomes impossible to become motivated enough to overcome them.
To say that everyone here works hard would be an understatement. Everyone always has some task to do, some place to be and a purpose. Not only do they manage to wake up early every day to do this, but they also manage to do so with fresh motivation and the desire to reach perfection in their work.

I've learnt that itfs important to place your concentration in the task at hand and to try and achieve it to perfection. Pull apart that mass of worries and work on what you need to do bit by bit and you will gain a satisfaction and peace of mind. Perhaps in my final year of high school and on my return to urban life I will forget this approach to life, but for now, I hope it will last.
Thank you Suirin.

For contact

2471-2198 IIZUNA Nagano-shi, Nagano-ken,
380-0888, JAPAN
Phone 026-239-2630@Fax 026-239-2736

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