Is Zen Easier For Men? (Day 121)

(photo credit: Scenes from the production of gari by Carsten ten Brink on

This weekend, I ended up in a conversation with somebody who read my recent posts on Zen Things. She brought up something that hadn’t crossed my mind and now I’m trying to figure out if I agree with what she said about Zen and men.

She said that my comments about not finishing things, in particular the story I told about changing closets from winter to summer resonated with her. Like me, she feels as though she spends most of her day doing the things that need to get done around the house: cooking, cleaning, laundry, gardening, plus organizing the family: making appointments, grocery shopping, running errands, dealing with plumbers and insurance companies and schools. Add in volunteer involvement and a tiny bit of time for self to exercise or see friends or knit or read, and the day is gone before it got started.

Women, she said, don’t have the luxury of doing one thing at a time. They never have. Back in the day, they stayed home while their men hunted for their food. The men faced grave danger if they didn’t put their full attention on the task at hand. If even for a minute, they tended to something other than killing their dinner, they risked losing the upper hand and becoming the animal’s dinner instead of the other way around. All of the Zen Things I’ve covered so far in this blog fit nicely with this type of work: do one thing at a time, do it slowly and deliberately, do it completely, do less, and put space between things.

But women, who did not face mortal danger as they took care of home and family, were involved in a multitude of jobs at once, a situation that did not work well with the Zen philosophy. As mothers and food gatherers and cooks and cleaners and home organizers, they had many more jobs to fulfill in the same amount of time and because their lives were not in constant danger, they had the ability to do more than one thing at a time. If a child needed help with something while the stay-at-home mother was preparing a meal, she could stop mid-prep and deal with what needed to be dealt with. She could sweep the floor while the onions softened in the pot. She could keep an eye on her kids while hanging wet laundry out to dry. To keep everything running smoothly, she had to do several jobs at once.

In many ways, not much has changed. Granted, many women work jobs outside the home and hire others to help out with the daily household responsibilities, but it is the rare 21st century family that does not depend upon the woman, whether she has a paying job and a housekeeper or an avocation that doesn’t pay and no extra help, to manage the multitude of jobs that are required to run a household. And most men, whether they have a physically draining job or high-powered executive situation, usually do not spend their workday tending to their non-work responsibilities.

This is not a criticism of the way men, generally, operate. And I know there are men out there who do not operate this way, so I am not saying it is black and white. But, because most women still run the households, whether they want to or not, this becomes one of those men are from Mars, women are from Venus conundrums.

Actually, I’m both envious of men’s ability to hyper focus and glad that I am not one of them. If I’m deep into a project and want to keep my attention with that project until the end of the workday, I still stop mid-work to pick up my kids or to empty the dishwasher or to switch the laundry loads. I want these things to get done, so I’m okay with breaking out of the zone if need be. Although sometimes, it makes me want to scream.

In theory, being Zen seems like a meaningful way to approach one’s life, but in reality, it is often difficult.

The question that was brought to my attention this weekend is are men wired, as a result of their historical responsibilities and perhaps genetic makeup, to be able to do one thing at a time more easily than women are? Is Zen easier for men than it is for women?

I’m not fully convinced despite agreeing with all of the explanations why this might be so.

In my experience, more women than men tend to be drawn to following the Zen philosophies in their lives. Is that because we believe they will make our lives more meaningful? Or is it because they seem like a respite for the harried state of many of our daily lives? Since men have more experience focusing on one thing at a time, are they less drawn to a philosophy that doesn’t differ greatly from the way they already live their lives?

Is Zen easier for men? Does that mean women should not aspire to living a more Zen lifestyle? Or feel like failures if they can’t seem to make the Zen way work in their lives?

What do you think? Please share in the comments.




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4 thoughts on “Is Zen Easier For Men? (Day 121)

  1. Some researchers disagree with your comment about hunting for food and focus at the task at hand. What are the possible evolutionary advantages of ADD? One hypothesis is that hunters only spend about 1% of the time are focused on “killing their dinner”. Most of the time, it’s wandering about observing the environment around them and looking for lots of tiny clues about what’s happening. Then they follow-up on some of the many distractions because one or two will lead to a good outcome – be it an animal, a bush of berries, or something else useful/edible.

    1. Interesting.
      Question: Isn’t it still focused on one thing–finding food–and therefore still a Zen-like activity?

  2. I don’t think Zen is easier for men. I do think it’s easier with more practice and I think men may have had more practice.

    And even in the Multi-tasking life, there is probably a way to totally focus on each little task. Each interruption becomes its own task – and wants focus at that small moment in time. Not sure if that makes sense.

So what do you think?