The arrival of a famous spiritual author prompted Paul to tidy up his house. The spiritual author sat in silence and observed while Paul went through the ritual every family of a small child knows well.
Toys were picked up and put in their boxes, teddy bears were sat in their rightful place, play mats folded away and put under sofas, books stacked neatly on shelves and all the noisiest toys were turned off. ‘There’, Paul asked confidently, ‘isn’t that perfect? The spiritual guru said ‘almost’ and proceeded to empty the toys all over the floor, get the teddy bears out, roll the play mat out on the floor, tip out the books and start the flashing and singing toys once again.
‘There, that’s perfect’ said the guru.
This is my take on a beautifully simple zen story. Click here to read the original story about a priest tending his garden.
Anyone with a young family will know the chaos and craziness that a house full of flashing, plastic, dayglo toys brings to your life. Especially when, as a couple without children, you favoured minimal decor, clean surfaces and a zen like placement of ornaments and black and white pictures. As a father running a fast-paced design business with clean white desks and a minimal white office, coming home to a house turned upside down used to bring a slight sense of anxiety and unease. Now I realise it wasn’t turned upside down, but the right way up.
The only thing that really matters is the joy and love I feel walking through the door and seeing my little boys smiling face. The stresses of the day disappearing as quickly as the handle turns.
But what does the story tell us?
The beauty of such a story is that it can be interpreted in many ways. The guru could be teaching Paul that life is about change, and that he must embrace the change that a young child has brought to his life. To change his own view of perfection. Perfection is only perception after all.
Or perfection could be the acceptance of imperfection.
He could also be messing up the room but cleaning up Paul’s mind. Which is easier, accepting the changes or attempting to reverse the change? Whatever Paul does to tidy up, he knows that tomorrow chaos continues.
He could also be reframing Paul’s mind, in that a room with no toys would also mean a room with no child, and what would be perfect about that? A room full of toys has the ability to bring out the child in us all. A reminder of a time when a box was a spaceship, a sheet was a den and the whole world was alive with magic.
I’ve fully embraced the changes. Well, on a deeper level, I know that nothing is permanent anyway. What my reality is right now will be totally different soon enough, and one day I’ll look back with fondness to a floor covered in toys.