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Thread: Zen And The Art Of Cleaning Windows

  1. #1
    Member Onsho's Avatar
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    Aug 2022
    they/them. Markdale Ontario, Canada

    Zen And The Art Of Cleaning Windows

    Zen And The Art Of Cleaning Windows
    an essay by Keith Hutchinson

    To have window cleaning as your life's career is to be intimate with all things. It's to be ever
    changing and fluid. It's to see the world from many perspectives. It's to look deeply into the most minute
    detail and see it as the whole world and the sole reason for leaving your warm bed and setting off into the
    still dark morning. It's being disciplined, kind and thoughtful, even in the worst of weather. It's to make
    impermanence into a dear friend. Most of all, being a window cleaner is having an unbreakable bond with
    yourself by valuing your doubts, trusting your intuition and nurturing your uncertainties. Without
    discrimination, the glass will reflect back your skill, your love, your patience, and your insecurities.

    Before the cleaning even begins, there are unsaid expectations for your conduct. So treating every
    aspect of the experience as the most important part has been my trick for avoiding discrepancies between
    my expectations and the client’s in the homes I visit. The invisible and changing force of their
    expectations is what you’re really up against. So nothing gets overlooked. Answering the phone the first
    time a client calls. Assuring them that I can help them with the problem they are having. Showing up on
    time. Not blocking their car in the garage. If it's too early to ring the doorbell, I just knock softly.
    Matching the energy they bring. Remembering the dog's name. Minding the flowers. Taking a picture of
    the furniture placement to slide it back in its place. Tip toeing around their Zoom call. Most of the time, a
    job well done has little to do with how clean the windows are. Yes, the glass is clean, but how was the
    experience? If it could only be that easy. Only after getting to know a client do you learn their curriculum
    and what aspects you are to be graded on. That's when you can really play to their idea of a job well done.
    It takes a subtle read to know what the client really wants, even if they don’t. It’s not as adversarial as it
    may seem — I truly do want to make people as happy as I can. Being a guest in someone's home requires
    vulnerability by being warm, open, honest, and expressing your genuine desire to be there. You really do
    meet the most fascinating people.

    Mechanically, cleaning a window is something that anyone can do, and do well, but not something
    that can be done perfectly. Myself included. Every person has their own idea of what “clean” really is. It
    could be having the windowsills wiped clean, the spider webs taken down, the frames dusted, the screens
    washed, the dead flies knocked from the rafters, or even the illusion of the glass being removed from the
    house. But the criteria changes from house to house and learning to cater to the individual’s "close
    enough" is a favour done for all parties. Perfect cannot be attained though. Perfectly clean does not exist.
    Germs may still be present or dust may have been squished into the edges that a towel can’t wipe. I can
    give my 100% effort, but I can never complete a 100% job. Perfect is the north star you walk towards for
    guidance but never actually reach. There is no certainty; only close enough. No soiled or immaculate, yet
    both soiled and immaculate, and we find the ever-changing middle way and hope for its approval.

    The formal service of cleaning someone's glass is navigating the client’s needs but with that aside,
    the actual cleaning process is working with the Way of the water. The visual of someone washing a
    window is very beautiful. You could be having an all-out war with yourself, but to others you may as well
    be sitting silently on your cushion. It's graceful. Rhythmic. Silent. Focused. It brings calmness.
    Intertwined in a dance with the water you must match its movement if you wish for it to be your partner.
    Using a T-shaped mop handle called a strip washer, you make wide sweeping motions. Looking deeply,
    you make sure every inch, every pane, in every location, at every elevation is treated with the utmost care.
    All the dirt, BBQ oil, dog nose prints, pollen, bug waste, and webs are very securely attached to the glass.
    They cannot be just wiped away, but can be moved into the water. Nothing is destroyed, only relocated.
    You continue your dance with the water by means of a squeegee. Where water meets gravity, you gently
    direct the water downward and wipe the edges dry. Too much water can make a mess in a house and can
    be caught by the wind and land on clean glass. Too little scrubbing and there will still be dirt left behind.
    Move the squeegee too fast and it can skip over parts leaving smears and a wet mess. Move the squeegee
    too slowly and the sun will dry the glass before you can get to it, leaving streaks in its wake. All easy
    problems to fix, but it's best to treat the water the way it wishes to be treated. It will not bend to your
    callousness, your impatience, or the changing seasons. The dance does not end when the window is clean.
    You keep that fluid flow with you as you move around the building, as you glide up and down the ladder,
    as you mindfully eat your lunch. There is wisdom in the water and you are there for each other's benefit.
    It's a relationship where the water becomes like the cleaner, and the cleaner becomes like the water.

    Your personal comfort around being up a 32-foot/10-metre ladder for multiple hours a day changes
    from year to year. It's inherently very dangerous and your body and mind demand that you know that.
    With time, you slowly learn to embrace those warning signs, but eventually you will go days without your
    conscious mind even recognizing them. Your subconscious mind continues to keep working towards your
    safety though, gently guiding your intuitions. You would think the largest risk to a window cleaner's
    safety is falling off a ladder. In all actuality, it's getting into a car accident going from job to job, followed
    by rolling your ankle or being swarmed by wasps. Relying on your intuition is a skill that takes years to
    develop. It's a relationship you grow with yourself. It's offering tea to your worst case hypothetical and
    letting them stay as long as they wish. It interrupts your autopilot when you are having a regular cloudy
    morning and brings your attention to the uneven ground, the wet deck, the buzzing from the soffit or the
    frost on the roof. All your insecurities deserve a comfortable chair at your table. People can get used to
    just about anything and there is danger in that complacent comfort.

    Cleaning glass day in and day out fosters a close relationship with yourself. You won't be spending
    more time with anyone else. Liking yourself can make your day significantly easier to get through.
    Loving yourself is needed for the long haul. Window cleaning offers you a blank mental canvas. With it
    not being particularly intellectual work, you can paint it with anything you want. While you are singing
    songs to yourself, planning out a home project, or stewing over a past argument that was too long ago,
    why the heck is this coming up now? You are mixing the colours of your mood and brushing your joys
    and frustrations. You quickly find out how much time you can spend with yourself before testing your
    own patience. Your love, compassion, and commitment to being kind to yourself soften the hard edges of
    the day. They bring equanimity and help you to accept the day, the client, and the window just how they
    are. They help the wild foxes of your mind run free without critique. The thoughts and feelings you carry
    with you are how your day has been spent. Some days you will paint a very grim canvas. Should you find
    yourself at an art gallery, you would note the dark paintings contain the same amount of beauty as the
    bright ones. It's all part of your exhibition.

    My life as I know it, is not perfect. But to whose criteria? What parts matter most to me? What is a
    job well done? What is my close enough? Have I paid close enough attention to my particular needs?
    Have I given enough effort to myself? Am I working with myself the way I work with the water? The
    energy, integrity, and love I bring to my profession are not only with me from 7 am to 5 pm. They
    permeate all parts of me. How I treat myself. How I treat my loved ones. How I treat my neighbour. How
    I treat strangers. How I treat my Sangha. It's almost as if I’m not separate from everyone and everything.
    To study the water’s Way is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to be
    actualized by myriad things. My life’s not perfect, but it's perfectly what it is. I'm grateful for the lens I
    see the world though. I’m grateful for the relationships I have. I'm grateful to be a window cleaner. I’m
    grateful to be a student of the water. Most of all, I am grateful to be intimate with all things.


  2. #2

  3. #3
    Thank you sharing, Keith, I liked all the descriptions of your job.




  4. #4
    Thank you Keith! There are so many great lessons/perspectives in your essay. This is certainly worthy of revisiting from time to time...


    聖簡 Seikan (Sacred Simplicity)

  5. #5

  6. #6

    Free of dust and dirt, you see the world clearly through clean windows.

    Gassho, Michael

  7. #7
    Keith, you make me look bad, like a real amateur but you taught me a thing or a dozen.
    Gasshosat/ lah

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    Peaceful Poet, Tai Shi. Ubasoku; calm, supportive, limited to positive 優婆塞 台 婆

  8. #8
    Thank you Keith

    Kotei sat/lah today.

    義道 冴庭 / Gidō Kotei.
    Being a novice priest doesn't mean my writing about the Dharma is more substantial than yours. Actually, it might well be the other way round.

  9. #9

    Zen And The Art Of Cleaning Windows

    Well, that was lovely and what precious lessons it seems you were fortunate to receive and then share here with us. Thank you

    Sat and lah
    When you put Buddha’s activity into practice, only then are you a buddha. When you act like a fool, then you’re a fool.

  10. #10
    That was a beautiful read. Thank you!


  11. #11

    You provided a new perspective for me to approach my window cleaning project.


  12. #12
    Very nice. Thank you Keith.

    Sat today and lah
    泰林 - Tai Rin - Peaceful Woods

  13. #13
    That was really lovely. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    Gassho, Shinshi

    空道 心志 Kudo Shinshi
    I am just a priest-in-training, any resemblance between what I post and actual teachings is purely coincidental.
    E84I - JAJ

  14. #14
    Member Do Mi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2023
    Pacific Northwest, United States
    Keith, this is just beautiful, and worthy of publication in my opinion. It is something I will be rereading for inspiration in my own professional and household work. Thank you so much for sharing!


    Do Mi
    sat and lah

  15. #15
    Thank you, Keith. What a lovely essay!

    Gassho, Onkai
    Sat lah
    美道 Bidou Beautiful Way
    恩海 Onkai Merciful/Kind Ocean

    I have a lot to learn; take anything I say that sounds like teaching with a grain of salt.

  16. #16
    Thanks Keith

    This is the real "confessions of a window cleaner!"

    Just lovely

    Gassho, Tokan

    平道 島看 Heidou Tokan (Balanced Way Island Nurse)
    I enjoy learning from everyone, I simply hope to be a friend along the way

  17. #17
    Thank you, Keith.

    st lah

  18. #18
    Member Onsho's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2022
    they/them. Markdale Ontario, Canada
    Thank you everyone for the kind words! You are all very sweet. So glad was able to connect with some of you.
    Love you all


  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Keith View Post
    Zen and The Art of Cleaning Windows

    Gandō Seiko
    (Stubborn Way of Pure Light)

    My street name is 'Al'.

    Any words I write here are merely the thoughts of an apprentice priest, just my opinions, that's all.

  20. #20
    Thank you and beautifully said.



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