Book review: Sweeping changes

extreme close shot of broom bristles

Many moons ago, going solely on a hunch, I stumbled upon doing the dishes as a way of setting things right.

It was a magical bit of accidental reframing for me. Dishes were an especially loathed task growing up, for all sorts of reasons having to do with feminism and feeling trapped in a life and a house not of my choosing.

Ironing, on the other hand, was a quieting, calming task I chose. Like most of my favorite soothing things, it required just enough attention to disengage my brain from whatever it was currently sweating out, and not so much that I couldn’t have Brady Bunch reruns on in the background.

Sweeping Changes: Discovering the Joy of Zen in Everyday Tasks, helps reframe all kinds of potentially irritating chores into balm for the soul (not to mention actions that get the house nice and clean.) Author Gary Thorp, a lay-ordained monk in the Shunryu Suzuki Roshi tradition, explicates the dull to-dos of maintaining one’s life and space, the scrubbing of toilets, the preparation of meals, and yes, the sweeping of surfaces, in Buddhist terms: how we care for the things around us determines how we care for ourselves and the world around us.

If we approach a dirty sink, or carpet, or even (or especially) a toilet with loving kindness and our full attention, we improve our ability to approach the more complex challenges of life the same way. And if we go one level deeper, we start getting in our bones that the Buddha lives in everything: not just the clean sink underneath, but the dirty water that fills it. We honor the space walled off arbitrarily by the exterior of our home but not at the expense of the space outside of it, because we see that everything, the floor, the dust, the mites living in the dust, are all part of one, big, interconnected system.

I loved Thorp’s friendly, light, easygoing style so much, I probably read the book too fast. If you pick up your own copy (there are new hardcover and paperback copies available starting at $5.99 and $10.90, respectively, with abundant used copies for far less), I’d keep it by the bed or other (ahem) temporary reading station to dip into here and there, for inspiration. Maybe it’s different for zen cats, but us civilian kitties can get balled up in our Buddhist underwear pretty darn quick.

If you take nothing else from it, I’d suggest taking these two things: pay more attention to your tasks, and less to how perfectly you do them.

Easier on the surfaces and what lies beneath yours…


Image by CarbonNYC via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

UPDATE (8:51 am): In my rush to post, I neglected to mention that John E. Simpson‘s comment on a previous post originally pointed me to this wonderful book. I’m horrified, not only b/c I’m such a credit-where-credit-is-due apologist, but b/c I want to maximize the chances I’ll find other great book (and other) suggestions in the comments section. My apologies, John!

Yo! Disclosure! Links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt’s excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.


  1. I love this. I have spent some time not only cleaning the clutter and negative energy from my house but keeping it at bay. Those tasks I have found take minimal time each day but help keep the mental drag to a minimum. I never thought of that as a form of self care, but it is….

    1. Those Buddhists, they know a thing or two about a thing or two.

      I’m just relieved that “self-care” doesn’t mean spas and mani-pedis. Because—no offense to those who adore them—I can’t stand either.

  2. I’m so pleased you liked Sweeping Changes! It’s one of my favorite finding-the-something-while-doing-“nothing” inspirations. (And when I saw the pun in the title — the vertiginous flip-flop from adjective-noun to noun-verb — I practically clapped.)

    And yeah — the light style is a big plus. I never got the sense of having my head monk(ey)ed with that I get from some works like it.

    P.S. The “preview your comment while you type” feature here at communicatrix is mesmerizing.

    1. Ack! I knew there was something I forgot to do with this post! And I had a tab open in Firefox with YOUR COMMENT to link to and everything. This is what comes from running around like a chicken with one’s head cut off. (Actually, this is what comes from being a “seven” in the Enneagram, which, according to the expert, is what I am. But more on that later!)

      And I know what you mean about the preview mode. It’s almost like there’s a me in a parallel cyber-universe who knows exactly what I’m going to say next!

      1. Apology not necessary, but thanks!

        Enneagrams. Great. Another rabbit-hole to fall into, as I’ve found from spending just 10 minutes poking around online… Heh.

  3. Being a bit of a “neat freak” has always motivated me to keep things clean and in order. But, in the past, I’ve felt it more of a necessity and couldn’t find the joy in it… if that makes any sense. :)

    I now see the true value in using these so called chores as a way to meditate and relax. When you shift your mind and outlook, every task (no matter how small or mundane) can be a catharsis in and of itself.

    1. Definitely. Not to mention the bonus-extra high-level-procrastination points you score by tidying and cleaning while avoiding “real” work. Much better to mindfully do something menial than mindlessly surf the ‘Net.

  4. you caught me right smack dab in the middle of cleaning toilets, scrubbing tubs and floors, sorting, washing and folding clothes,
    washing dishes, vacuuming carpets and reminded me …
    s l o w d o w n a n d e n j o y t h e m o m e n t

    now returning to same chores with a new mindset…thanks for the reminder

  5. I actually switched to sweeping this year. I’ve found vacuuming is hard on my back and shoulders. I have a dog, but I have hardwood floors, so a little sweeping every day is nice break. You can’t underestimate how much qi is trapped in that dog hair.

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