Book Review: Hand Wash Cold

Book Review: Hand Wash Cold

Hand wash cold book

I really enjoyed this book and give it five stars.  It is quirky, honest and fresh, and so rich in metaphor to be almost like reading poetry.  Written by Karen Maezen Miller a wife and mother who became a Zen priest, it emphasizes mindfulness and staying in the present moment.  Zen has the refreshing approach that everything we do is part of our spiritual practice, and this book is organized around three chores: laundry, cooking, and yard work. The never-ending nature of these chores make them apt comparisons to life itself.  I was led to read it after seeing it mentioned on Katrina Kenison’s blog, having loved her book, The Gift of an Ordinary Day.  Below are some tidbits I enjoyed, shared as both a teaser for you and an archive for me:

“…when we release ourselves from judgement and inadequacy, we free everyone else from our criticism and blame.”

“The point of meditation is to stop making things up and to see things as they are.”

“…life isn’t a story… Quiet the narration in your head, even for a moment, and see for yourself that life is life, and not one minute of it is a retelling or a foretelling.”

“… the single instruction I remember most enduringly from Maezumi Roshi is: ‘Your life is your practice.’”

“A true teacher is likely to be the most ordinary person you’ll ever meet.”

“Choose a teacher who practices what he or she preaches. Teachers can be charming, entertaining, and provocative, but if you base you choice on anything other than the vigor and authenticity of their practice, you will surely be misled.”

“I wanted what he had. Easy laughter. Steady feet.  Peace of mind. To be washed completely clean and ready, always ready, for wear.”

“We are not the designers of our lives. Life is the designer of us.”

“Let’s just see how it goes.”

“The point is, do we see it without blinding ourselves with our preconceptions and biases? Without rejecting the unexpected or pursuing the ideal?”

“I found the ingredients for the next stage in the spiritual journey: the opportunity to move beyond myself and into the compassionate care of everything and everyone that appeared before me morning, noon, and night.  I found myself in the very heart of life, an ordinary life, the best spot to give and receive pure love.”

    “It’s the things we fear that chase us down, that haunt and hobble us until they inevitably overtake us and leave us with the weary self-fulfillment we were so afraid to find.”

“We expect it to be the way we want it to be; and the way we want it to be is the way we call right.  In other words, my way. My way is what you have before children. There is no right way to parent; there is only the right-now way.”

“Those nights standing over the stove, I might have thought it would all get easier when my baby was out of bottles, then out of diapers, then out of a high chair, then out from underfoot, then out of my hair, and then finally out of the house.  It was always going to be easier some other day.  But I never had to wait that long. It gets easier as soon as you get out of your judging mind – the mind that picks and chooses your way as best and regards all others as less.”

“”I never ask myself if it’s worth it, that’s how I know it is.”

“How much success, how much worth, insulates any of us from the twin torments of inadequacy and impermanence?”

“Tasks are undertaken not because we want to do them, or like to do them; not because we choose to do them; not because we have suitable talent, temperament, or ingredients; not for reward or appreciation; but simply because it is time. Without thinking, we engage wholly in tending to needs as they appear and, in this way, live with clear purpose and total fulfillment.”

“Having the good life can be so simple when you savor the one you have.”

“I practice being enough.  When I do that, everything is already enough, and this is the day I’ve been saving for.”

“Attention is the most concrete expression of love. What we pay attention to thrives. What we do not pay attention to withers and dies. What will you pay attention to today?”

“In no time at all, it’s always that time again.”

“Do not let difference make a difference.”

“All practice is the practice of making a turn in a different direction.”

Karen Maezen Miller

I work to amplify good wherever I find it. I love color, texture, beauty, great ideas, nature, metaphor, deliciousness, genuine spirituality, and exploring new territory. I encourage authenticity, nurture creativity, champion sustainability, promote peace, and hope to foster a new renaissance where we all are free to be our most fulfilled, multifaceted, and terrific selves. Read more here.

1 Comment


  1. […] gleaned from her Japanese garden. I had also, years ago, read and enjoyed her book Hand Wash Cold (my 2012 blog review is here), which is why this book was on my radar. While not a Zen Buddhist myself, I find that she has […]

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