- Shonda Scarborough
- The Sunrise Project
- Emily Meerstra
When I first saw the title of Karen Maezen Miller’s book, Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life, I wondered how many people might feel hesitant to define their lives that way.
Most of us don’t want to be ordinary. We want to be special. We want to live bold, extraordinary lives punctuated by moments of passion, excitement, and adventure.
We want to fill our days with people, things, and activities that make us feel vibrant, and outsource the rest to someone else, someone paid to handle the mundane.
We want to take all the uncertainty that life entails—all the potential for loss and sadness and the truth of our mortality—and offset it with undeniable achievement.
We want to discover something, uncover something, build something, invent something, found something, prove something—be something. We want to be extraordinary. We want to be great, or at least moving in that direction.
We want our lives to matter.
If you’re a practicing Buddhist, you probably noticed a lot of ego in this introduction, though with compassion and minimal judgment. But I’m guessing the average reader for Hand Wash Cold is not a Buddhist.
The average reader is someone who has spent their life reaching for happiness beyond this moment, in adventures, dreams, hopes, and people—that elusive joy that exists out there. In marriage. In the American dream. In a windfall or lottery win.
Someone who might instinctively disbelieve it’s possible to “fall in love with life you already have,” as written on the back of the book, but is willing to suspend disbelief through 181 pages for the possibility of an answer.
Ultimately, that’s what we’re all seeking: a concrete guideline for what we should do to experience the type of happiness we’ve been planning for.
Karen Maezen Miller doesn’t give us any answers we can’t see, feel, and experience ourselves. That, to me, is the best possible care instruction because life truly is wherever you are.
Standing in the kitchen washing dishes. Folding laundry while your four-year old breaks the sound barrier with her rendition of The Song That Doesn’t End. Removing weeds from a garden that may or may not be fruitful.
Or maybe that’s not really your life. Maybe you don’t actually hand wash anything on your own except occasionally a piece of fruit.
Still, life takes place in typing, the Skype messages, emails, and business plans. Life isn’t what happens after you send them. Life is the actual typing. The way you fill your moment at any given time defines your life in that moment.
Life, by nature, is ordinary. It’s because of our resistance to that word that it often slips away.
Karen Maezen Miller doesn’t write about her journey navigating a foreign country while filming a documentary, or her experience running a billion dollar Fortune 500 company, or her extraordinary life as an heiress, actress, singer, model, athlete or politician.
She doesn’t write about a life all of us wish we had.
Karen Maezen Miller writes about the satisfaction we can experience when we consider that maybe right now is a good time to be happy. That maybe we’re enough, that this is enough.
Or as I quoted recently on the Tiny Buddha Twitter stream:
“Happiness is simple. Everything we do to find it is complicated.”
Now to address the elephant in the room: Karen Maezen Miller does live a life most would call extraordinary.
In addition to being “an errant wife, delinquent mother, reluctant dog walker, expert laundress and stationmaster of the full catastrophe” as summarized on her site, Karen Maezen Miller is a Zen priest, published author, and public speaker.
The irony is that she became extraordinary for accepting the ordinary and sharing it.
But what interests me about this is not the irony; it’s that I’m certain after reading her book she can only appreciate that success for having learned to accept the moment. Its impermanence. Its existence beyond the stories we create about it. Its lack of meaning beyond the meaning we give it. Its messiness. Its potential for inconvenience. And yet in all of that, it’s splendor.
I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy this book. I thought it might be preachy or that I might find it difficult to relate to the author—and remember, I’m Zen adjacent. I was wrong on both parts. Karen Maezen Miller shares her experiences, both flattering and unflattering, with honesty and poignancy.
She turns herself inside out to reveal her vulnerability, her ego, her humanity—everything you might assume doesn’t exist underneath the trappings of priesthood. It’s all there. The struggles, the disappointments, the bad memories, the losses, everything that makes it tempting to pull our attention from now and displace it to somewhere, anywhere else.
She is unfailingly generous in sharing her own journey to right here and now. My copy of Hand Wash Cold is underlined, earmarked, and well worn. I daresay it’s an extraordinary book.
To win a copy of Hand Wash Cold:
1. Comment below.
2. For an extra entry, tweet:
RT @tinybuddha Book Review & Giveaway: Hand Wash Cold http://bit.ly/dvKN7u
You can enter until midnight on Sunday, September 12th. I will choose four winners using Randomizer and announce them on Monday, September 13th. One of those winners will receive an autographed copy. Thank you Karen Maezen Miller!
FTC Disclosure: I receive complimentary books for reviews and interviews on tinybuddha.com, but I am not compensated for writing or obligated to write anything specific. I am an Amazon affiliate, meaning I earn a percentage of all books purchased through the links I provide on this site.