Daily Life as Practice: The Dharma of Shelling Beans

“This is as bad as meditation!” The irritable thought arose as I tried out every seat and countertop in my kitchen in hopes of finding some way of standing or sitting that would let me shell two pounds of fresh cranberry beans without experiencing pain somewhere in my crabby, aging body.

Then I remembered: daily life activities can be practice. Shelling these beans could be a meditation.

IMCW teacher, Jane JacksonI stopped flailing around the kitchen, paused, and took a breath. I thought of the words I often say when I begin to lead a guided meditation: find a way to sit that is erect yet relaxed, that lets you be both comfortable and alert. I sat that way with my sack of beans in my lap. I took some moments to feel the weight of the beans and to appreciate their beauty. I reflected that, just yesterday, these beans were still growing on their vines, transforming sunlight, rain, and nutrients from the soil into something that I can eat. The molecules in the beans would soon join the flow of matter and energy that I experience as me.

As I watched my agitation recede, it came to me that I could do this task with much less pain if I did not hunch over to peer anxiously through my glasses at each bean. The action of shelling beans, one pod after another, without constantly looking at them offered something to pay attention to that was in my body and in the present moment. When the thoughts wandered off — “Will my spouse like these beans after I cook them? Will my back hurt later? For how many more years will I be able to shop and cook for myself? What will we watch on TV tonight?” — I brought the attention back to my shoulders, arms, and hands, to the process of opening this velvety bean pod and popping out these shiny pink-and-cream-colored beans.

Some thoughts were especially compelling. Cranberry beans are lovely to look at when raw, but they lose their colors when you cook them. Also, they cannot be eaten raw. I saw myself wishing that I could serve these beans without diminishing their beauty, and regretting that I could not do so. A little while later I saw the Dharma lessons in those thoughts. The beauty of cranberry beans is impermanent. Longing for it to last through the cooking process just brings unsatisfactoriness to my experience of preparing this meal.

When the beans were all out of their pods, I considered what might be a good way to conclude this bean-shelling meditation. After attending so closely to my own breath, body, feelings, and thoughts, I find it helpful to open towards other beings in an intentional way. One way to do this is by shifting to the practice of metta, to extending kind and friendly wishes to ourselves and others. So, I brought to mind the workers at the farm who planted, tended, and harvested the beans, and also the person from the composting company who would collect from my house this large pile of discarded bean pods. I said the words to myself: May they be safe and protected from inner and outer harm. May they live with ease and with kindness. May they know justice and peace.

May they, may I, may all of us, wake up and be free.


We are grateful for your dana (generosity)

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