I was having sushi with an acquaintance in San Francisco.
Very cool guy - Google engineer, very cultured, very smart on lots of topics.
One thing came up that was fascinating to me - he did an almost-silent Zen retreat for quite a while, like a month or two. I don't remember the exact details, but I think they only spoke for 10 minutes per day, or if the Zen master spoke to them? Something like that.
Anyways, he told me that it was all surprisingly mundane at first. No huge breakthroughs, just sitting meditating, and doing lots of chores. The first thing they did every morning was to clean the temple, including the bathrooms.
Every morning, they'd clean the bathrooms. Finally, during the 10 minutes of speaking, one student asked the monk, "I understand discipline, but why do we clean the toilets every day? They don't get very dirty..."
The monk replies, "How hard is to clean a clean toilet?"
That's just it - it's not hard to clean a clean toilet. A dirty toilet is incredibly hard to clean and incredibly unpleasant. But in life, if you get into the habit of doing mildly unpleasant things early, they don't become massively unpleasant things later.
I think about that expression a lot. "How hard is it to clean a clean toilet?"
Not very hard. I try to keep in this mind with my cleaning and maintenance of things.
Nice post... I think the concept the monk was trying to drive through extends to "how hard is it to keep a good thing good?"
You're in shape and are tired of going to the gym because you look good... well how hard would it be to get in shape if you lost it?
Wrote some code and do not feel like writing a test alongside so you decide to test it manually and confirm the results? Well how hard and overwhelming will it become to test the system manually when it grows when you just could have written test cases along the way?
Society and things in general tend to go towards entropy so doing the little things on a daily basis that seem painful adds a lot of value and are achievable because the exercise is not overwhelming. The more you let stuff pile up and fester, the harder it becomes to deal with and correct.
I once came up with this funny one-liner "Shaving and saving - if not done at the earliest, will become difficult"!
"How hard is to clean a clean toilet" - is more short and to the point. good thought.
Great post, and great quote. I've been thinking a lot lately about maintenance. In the past I've seen it as boring and something to be ignored. But that's really not the way to look at it. Maintenance is about maintaining quality, and that is something to take pride in.
You know what? I've created a goal on habitforge.com to clean the bathroom + living room daily first thing in the morning. It should take me 10 minutes but I'm sure it'll be gold for discipline.
Perfect reasoning right there! Good thing about the toilet, is that you have to use it often enough, and when you do, you can see exactly how dirty it is. Contrast this to maintaining a car, or even cleaning the kitchen stove; you have to "put in some effort" to realise that their getting dirtier every day.
Most people don't even see that their kitchen stove is getting dirtier by the day, much less be able to see themselves getting fatter/spiralling into a bad relationship/etc. What we need are constant reminders, so thanks for giving us one today. =)
March 10, 2010. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Late morning.
I pulled on my swim trunks, trainers, and a tank top and walked out of my little guesthouse room, sliding through the cramped restaurant strewn with tables, and out into the hot, dusty air of Phnom Penh. It's a hot day. It'll be good to swim after lifting weights.
I said, "No no, thank you" to the tuk-tuk drivers offering to take me somewhere in the city, pushed through the little crowd, and out onto the street. The streets in Cambodia more resemble alleyways than streets, and I navigate around people and vehicles.
I went down to the end of the street, turned left, and skirted along close to the local restaurants, half-tent half-storefront type places to get food. I stepped into the crosswalk, the Hotel Cambodiana rising in front of me. I check right and then left, and I watch left as I cross, watching for oncoming traffic.
A loud scream rings out. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
I used to dislike to work. I saw how most people lived their lives, slogging through work that they hated, and I was determined not to fall into that trap. I made the mistake of generalizing, lumping all work together in the same bucket.
Since then, things have changed. In terms of monumental personal life changes, becoming a hard worker is the most recent one I've undergone. About a year ago, for reasons I touched on in this post, I decided that it was imperative for me to become a hard worker. I didn't do it because I had suddenly fallen in love with work, but rather because I had began to feel as though I was behind. And believe me, it wasn't love at first sight.
To fall in love with hard work, you must understand why it's necessary. When I was young I was told that sugar was bad, but I never understood exactly why it was bad, so I kept eating it. Only when I learned how it chemically affected my body did I finally give it up. The same is true of work-- if you don't know why you have to work hard and love it, you'll probably never actually do it.
Work is your gift to the world. That sounds corny, but it's true. And believe me, you owe the world a gift or two. Think of all of the various things that millions of people around the world have done for you to enjoy the life you have. They made up languages, invented stuff, procreated at the exact right times to create your ancestry, and managed to not kill each other in the process. We're lucky to be here, and the high standard of living we all enjoy now is only because of those who came before us. Some, like Einstein, had huge impact, but even people you don't notice, like the janitors, are making your life better.