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Jan 06
Arts and Poetry
Confessions of a Householder

By Acharya Michael Greenleaf

Let’s face it. A house is not Zen.

I never really wanted a house. It was my wife’s idea.

My ideal scenario was to live in a van. There are many advantages to a van. Maybe it’s a guy thing.

For one, who ever heard of painting a van? I mean the inside. This just wouldn’t come up. There is something beautiful about steel, whatever color it’s painted.

Second, keeping the van clean would be easy. Cleaning my house is like cleaning the Potala Palace in Lhasa. There are more rooms than I care to count. Once I vacuumed the whole house. It was summertime. I had to be treated for heat exhaustion. I won’t do that again.

Actually, I don’t really think you can keep a van all that clean. The effort would be in conflict with the van’s nature. It is important to respect the nature of things. Anyhow, cleaning wouldn’t really come up. That would be fine by me. I mean, cleaning something changes it. Have you noticed? Why do we want to change things? Isn’t our practice to accept things the way they are?

Householders have the “house” and the “holders”. The “house” is a shelter from the elements. But having survived, you still need to survive your survival, if you know what I mean. Escape is the only way. At night in a house, I feel alone and vulnerable. I have the cable TV bills to prove it. But come on, the way to escape is to move. Just one word here: wheels.

As for “holders,” in my tradition we are learning to let go. Not to hold on. If you have a house, you are in charge of your house. Let’s face it; whatever happens in the house, you are responsible. Do you know what that word means, really? If you did, you wouldn’t want to be it. It’s related to the word oblige, which is related to the word bound. Basically, a house is a prison — with windows and a chimney.

Responsible people have to account for their actions. You can’t “account” while you’re moving. Particularly if you’re moving fast. You do what you do and you move on. People aren’t responsible when they’re moving. How could they be? My van is about freedom. You can’t drive if you’re studying the rear view mirror.

Houses wear out. They are constant work. Something is always breaking down, requiring attention. That kind of commitment to a “thing” isn’t in keeping with the meditative lifestyle. We need to let go of things. For instance, I let go of my old tube TV. It was huge and it meant a lot to me. But it had to be done. Now I have a beautiful flat screen TV. It’s just not the same.

When a house wears out, it is very hard to trade it in. With my van, I would just drive it to the dealer and drive out with another. I actually think a van is “greener” than a house. So don’t fault me for trading it in. Not to mention the boost to Detroit, which could use a little boost.

Houses have windows. I wouldn’t have any windows on my van. At least not in back. Talk about privacy. Bedding down for the night, even I wouldn’t know where I was. Vans are romantic; they’re cozy, if you get my drift. I think that “desirability factor” is one of the reasons my wife was against it.

Windows allow light in the morning. That can be inconvenient. In a van, this wouldn’t be a problem. Speaking of windows, from my house you can see houses next door. Neighbors. The word says it all. Sometimes they phone me. Like when I’m yelling. I know it’s them from the caller ID. I don’t answer. But I do lower my voice.

Do you know how hard it is to yell when you have to keep your voice lowered? Believe me, there is almost no satisfaction there. You have to hiss, really, to make your point. Which is demeaning.

In my van, I wouldn’t have neighbors. Not permanent ones anyway. Just for the half hour or so it took them to shop for groceries. Living at the grocery store. Well, I mean, in the parking lot. Talk about convenience! And no neighbors. The problem with neighbors – sooner or later they need something. Neighbors are basically guests who haven’t moved in yet. No guests, no neighbors. That’s called simplicity. It’s part of my practice.

One thing about a van, there isn’t room for artwork and potted plants. They’re not practical. Nothing can hang on the walls of a van. I don’t even think they’re called walls. They’re called sides. Who ever heard of hanging a picture on a “side”? It just isn’t going to happen. This would save a lot of time.

It would take too long to hang a picture on the inside of my van. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about appreciation. Do you realize how much time in a house is wasted on appreciating things? Art on the wall, the smell of food on the stove, flowering plants. With my wife, every day in the house is plant appreciation day.

I mean, how long can you stare at a plant? By the way, one thing I’ve noticed, if you stare long enough, the plant starts to stare back. Just try it. That’s the flaw in appreciation. You think those things are there for you. But if you really pay attention, it starts to feel like you are there for them. I mean, who wants to be there for a plant? Just creeps me out.

The other thing about a van, no furniture. Either you are driving, going where you need to go, or you are sleeping. I would have a really nice mattress in the back. I mean, I’m a gentleman. Why do we need anything else really? No tables, no chairs. Let’s face it. A chair is really just a poor excuse for a couch, and a couch wants to be a bed when it grows up.

Have you sat in a chair lately? Basically, you have two painful choices. You can lean back in the chair, which is like lying down halfway. How helpful is that? Or you can sit up straight and face the universe on your own. Who in their right mind would do that? Chairs with wheels, now those I can deal with. A van is a chair with wheels and a gas pedal. I miss my van.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the chair. Well, you can sit up and be still. There is a little problem with being still. I think you know what I’m driving at. The one problem with being still? You are not moving. I don’t need to tell you what kind of people don’t move. These aren’t my favorite kind of people. Why would I want to imitate them?

Believe me, you will never distinguish yourself by sitting still. You’ll never get anywhere. In my van, I go places. I make “miles per hour.” I cover territory. My progress can be measured. No movement, no way to measure. If something can’t be measured, it’s either too big or too small. Either way, where’s the point? If you’re not progressing, where are you? You do the math.

Not that I would have to be on the go all the time. When I would drive. I would drive. When I would sleep, I would sleep. It would be Zen.

Read more pieces by Michael Greenleaf on the Samadhi Cushions Blog.

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12 responses to “ Confessions of a Householder ”
  1. Daniel Dodd-Ellis
    Mar 20, 2010

    please look me up andrew!

  2. Michael, Would the van be lined with Samadhi cushions? My very best to you, and your WIFE.
    Warmly, Paulette

  3. I’m with Michael! Love this piece. LOL!

  4. Sara Demetry
    Jan 20, 2010

    I know what you mean about neighbors….

  5. Lisa Steckler
    Jan 13, 2010

    It would be easy to do some “hero worship” here but that would go against van-guy-author. I am certain about that. But please do keep writing. Your style is, how shall I say??? simply refreshing. Like a new scented tree to hang from the rear view.

  6. Marita McLaughlin
    Jan 12, 2010

    Thanks Michael. We’ve had a model of this van near our kitchen shrine for a few years now. Now I know why.

  7. Caroline DeMaio
    Jan 9, 2010

    I really know what you mean about those plants!

  8. Please, do keep writing!

  9. Kristine McCutcheon
    Jan 6, 2010

    Does your van have a name?

  10. Christine Baranay
    Jan 6, 2010


  11. Geoffrey Herden
    Jan 6, 2010

    Thank you Michael.

  12. Andrew Moore
    Jan 6, 2010

    Acharya Michael Greenleaf, you are too funny!

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.

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