Monday, May 18, 2009

My father: Zen master? The Pool

My father may have been a Zen master. He never said so, but having recently read Way of the Peaceful Warrior, I’ve become suspect.

In a previous post, I told of my initiation Zen ivy trimming. Other lessons followed.

When I was in sixth grade, my parents upgraded our family home with a built-in swimming pool. It wasn’t exactly a Zen Koi pond, but it did provide a certain opportunity for meditation.

It was called: Vacuuming the Pool.

To my dad, this activity was an art form. He did it slowly, methodically, almost meditatively. I made the mistake of showing an interest.


“Yeah, Dad.”

“Looks like fun, doesn’t it.”


“Would you like to try it?”


And so the lessons began.

The set-up mechanics involved attaching a forty-five-foot piece of flexible tubing to rectangular device that fit on the end of a twenty-five foot pole. Once the tubing was secured and submerged, the loose end was plugged into the suction-end of the filtering system of the pool via the “skimmer”. Several valves were adjusted to maximize suction, and the meditative process began.

My father, the Zen master, calmly stroked the sides of the pool and its bottom with strong, firm, slow movements. He did not disturb the fine film of silt that lay on the bottom of the pool. He coaxed it quietly, silently, slowly into the vacuum’s head.

I was a poor student. I began well, but my performance deteriorated over time.

When the Master watched, I worked slowly, but soon I was trusted to perform the “meditation” independently, twice a week, unsupervised, after-school.

What took him an hour and a half, I completed in 30 minutes. I’m a fast meditator.

Where he coaxed, I corralled. I combined a brush and vacuum technique that violated the Rule of Slow, but I got the job done. Silly student that I was, I thought it was about the destination, not the journey.

I learned that lesson later.

Never the less, my father was content to let me repeat my twice-weekly attempts... for seven years.

He was very patient with me. Zen masters usually are.

“Did you vacuum the pool, Son?”

“Yes, Dad.”

“Thank you, Son.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Do it again on Thursday.”

“Yes, Dad.”

And so my lessons continued.


  1. Don,
    I forgive me, for I have a slight flaw in my character. Have you become suspect, or merely a suspect, or perhaps suspicious? Wait, let me look it up...I never thought of using the word "suspect" as an intransitive. You are very clever, my young cousin grasshopper.

  2. Dennis,

    You have anticipated another theme: pet names for Zen interns. Grasshopper is perhaps the most famous and a bit kinder then many.

    (Zen masters also are quite good at turning a phrase in ways that create a moment of mental incongruity.)


  3. And to think, all this time I equated my dad's order to clean the pool to "Slave Driver"! I was way off. "Zen Master," I see it now.

    The Journey is the Destination.

    I, too, have been known to be a fast meditater...

    ...but i'm working on that.

  4. @Chase -- Reinterpreting "Dad" -- where will it lead to. If your dad wasn't a slave driver... what wasn't your mom? or mine? (Some topics are better left unexplored.) Don

  5. Parent trickery at it's finest Don.....
    As I've gotten older, I've learned that these sometimes repetative chores are almost therapeutic. I keep trying to tell our children that we were trying to "help" them by using thier youthful energy to our benefit but hey just kept calling that theory crappola. They still do as a matter of fact.
    Awesome post my friend :)

    Steady On
    Reggie Girl

  6. @Reggie: Thanks. I also think of this story like Tom Sawyer and the whitewashed fence. Trickery? Yes. But I like the Zen take even better. Nostalgic? A bit. Romanticized? Yes. Fun? Yes. Accurate? Perhaps! ;-)