April 22, 2015

The Happy Buddha Stays with Friends: 10 Easy Ways to be a Mindful House Guest.

Shoes lined up

It was the first day of a 10 day meditation retreat and the teacher had just rung the first bell for us to take our final postures.

I could feel my anticipation rise as I waited for the second bell to ring, signaling the beginning of our 20 minute session of silent meditation.

The second bell didn’t ring however, and instead, the meditation teacher began speaking to us.
“In your mind’s eye,” she said, “look at the place where you left your shoes this morning when you came into this space to sit for meditation.”

“Do not turn around,” she admonished. “Experience in your bellies the chaos that you created in this room when you took your shoes off and left them helter-skelter on the floor.”

I remembered seeing the piles of shoes so casually thrown off on the floor and even remembered thinking how distinctly different they looked compared to the orderly row of cushions neatly arranged not more than 10 feet away.

“Think of all that your shoes do for you,” the teacher continued. “They keep your feet warm and happy. They keep you from injuring yourselves. They help you to walk without pain. They deserve gratitude and respect.”
My eyelids were half closed, my hands folded inside each other palms up on my belly, and my back was straight. In this posture and state of mind, I heard the teacher’s words more deeply than I might have otherwise.

“This is not your home,” she said, reminding us that we were temporary visitors and that this was where the sisters lived, not where we lived.

She told us that the nuns were receiving us as guests and that as guests a demeanor of gratitude and respect would provide us with a place of peace and comfort in which we could renew our weary bodies after the long days of meditation.

“Be mindful in the way you live while you are here. Mindfulness is not just for meditation. It includes the way you interact with everything. Including your shoes.”

Still not ringing the bell for the meditation to begin, the teacher began a description of all of the behaviors that we, as mindful guests, should engage in while in someone else’s home.

She told us to keep all our things neat and orderly, not just our shoes, adding that our clothes protected us, kept us warm and that we needed them.

She told us to be timely about our arrival and departure to meals, to bedtime, to any appointment. She said that when we were expected at a certain time and did not arrive at that time we created confusion for others and left a hole.

She asked how many of us had brought a thank you offering to give to our hosts before we started the retreat and said that bringing a gift beforehand was a gesture that put the entire stay in the context of gratitude.

She told us we were all sharing a room and when we got out of bed to make the bed and not leave our messy bedcovers to spread their unhappiness.

She told us that when we were not in our room to leave the door partially open. A partially open door says that we know the room does not belong to us, even temporarily.

She told us that in every place we went, the bathroom, the kitchen, the bedroom, we were to leave the space as if we had not been there.

She told us not to take more than we could eat and to not leave anything on our plates. In one of the monasteries that she held retreats in, guests wiped their breakfast plates clean with a bit of bread so that the plates could be used again by them for lunch. She reminded us to be mindful of the customs of the house we were staying in and to not bring outside customs with us.

One of the most notable things about her was that when she made these comments she would specifically say that she was not going to give us a printed sheet with them written down. She would say they were not “rules” that needed to be followed; they were “loving ways in which we could mindfully express our gratitude to the people and things around us.” She emphasized that if we wanted to, we would remember her words and write them in our memory for ourselves.

Here is a summary of my teacher’s “Happy Buddha/Emily Post” comments (as she later described them) in summary:

1. Do not create chaos with your presence

2. Treat your clothes as if they are your friends.

3. Do not leave a hole for others to fall into.

4. Say thank you when you arrive, not only when you leave.

5. Make your bed happy by pulling up its covers.

6. A partially open bedroom door signals respect. A closed one signals rebuke.

7. Let the next person not even know that you had been there before them.

8. Take mindful portions of food.

9. Bend your ego to the culture of others.

I did my first 10 day retreat with this teacher in 1991 and to this day, her comments on how to relate to personal possessions and how to be a mindful guest are still written in my memory, just as she said they would be.

She had said that, “We write on our own memories those things we wish to remember.”

I will be forever grateful to my beloved meditation teacher for all that she taught me and there will always be a special place in my heart for her for having raised ordinary, everyday courtesies and chores to the level of spiritual practice.

10. Meditation isn’t the only place for mindfulness. It is part of everyday life.



The Simple Technique that Changed My Life.


Author:  Carmelene Siani

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Author’s Own, Flickr/Glenn

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Carmelene Siani  |  Contribution: 36,435