Hand Wash Cold:
Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life

by Karen Maezen Miller

New World Library, 2010. ISBN 978-1-577-31904-7.
Reviewed by Khadijah A.
Posted on 02/19/2013

Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration

In Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life, Karen Maezen Miller celebrates the spiritual aspect of the every day, from doing the laundry, to washing the dishes, to pulling weeds in the backyard. I think this why my sister-in-law gave me this book—she knows that this is something I do every day, and that I teach my students as well. Every moment is what it is, and is precious just because it is there, it is yours, and it will never be again. I come at it from an Islamic perspective, while Miller is a Zen Buddhist priest, but still, much of what she writes in this book reflects my experiences as well.

This is not a book of "do this" and "don't do this" so much as it is a reminder to simply be present, and to know that life is happening, right now. It is not our past, with all of our mistakes and triumphs. It is not our futures, full of dreams of what could be if only we... Rather, it is now, and the steps that it took to get us as far as we have come are the steps that simply had to be taken. Miller encourages us to let go of our fears ("Nearly everything we're afraid of is going to happen anyway, so what's to fear?" she asks) and to understand that nothing we do is useless or lost.

If nothing is worth it, why cook? Why shop and chop, boil and toil, and clean up after? To intimately engage yourself in your own life. To see the priceless in the worthless, to find complete fulfillment in being unfilled. And to eat something other than your own inflated self-importance.

I especially liked Miller's focus on kindness and compassion and the ability of these two things to make a difference. Perhaps not in the world as whole, but in our small corner of it. Being aware all the time not only of ourselves, but what we can do to serve others in ways both large and small. This makes Hand Wash Cold stand out from many other self-help books. It isn't about feeding our egos and getting everything we ever dreamed of in life. It's about making the life we have, the moment we are living in, meaningful.

Read an excerpt from this book.

Karen Maezen Miller is a wife and mother as well as a Zen Buddhist priest at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. She and her family live in Sierra Madre, California, with a century-old Japanese garden in their backyard. She writes about spirituality in everyday life. She is the author of Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood and Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life, and her writing is included in numerous anthologies. Visit her website.

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