“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” ~Zen Proverb
Sometimes my psyche and soul get tired.
That's happened to me this week.
Does it ever happen to you?
It often happens for me after a particularly busy or intense time with work or in my personal life — or a combination of both. Sometimes you just wake up, even after a good night's sleep, and think “Damn, I'm tired. My brain hurts. My heart is overloaded.”
When this happens, I've learned that it doesn't help me to “push through” and keep going, because eventually my head will spin off. Nor does it help much to try to figure it out or assign it too much meaning. This can lead to unattractive crying jags. And if I just sit and rest, it gives my over-taxed psyche too much space to run amok and make nasty assumptions that are rarely true.
I have found that doing simple tasks (not involving a lot of brain power) provides wonderfully restorative benefits to the heart and soul. By keeping my hands moving and my brain on low simmer, I am filled with a pleasant combination of relaxation, purpose, and accomplishment.
I may not be conquering the world, but I am residing peacefully in the moment. Sometimes that's enough.
Not every simple task evokes those feelings. Scrubbing a toilet, paying bills, or using a leaf blower tend to aggravate the problem, not help it. But there are certain repetitive tasks that have a Zen-like quality and are extremely soothing for me.
Here are a few simple tasks that are good for your soul . . .
Chopping veggies. An onion, some carrots, a couple of red bell peppers, a sharp knife and a big cutting board. The sound and rhythm of chopping, watching the veggies pile up, and scraping them into a bowl or pot. It is strangely satisfying.
Making soup. This is often step two after chopping veggies. Making soup is all about assembling, simmering, and savoring smells. It fills the house with a soothing aroma and a “welcome home” feel. It's my favorite meal to prepare.
Folding laundry. A big pile of warm, clean clothes that smell like Downy. The “snap” as you shake out an item. The pleasure of folding corner to corner, creating neat stacks for people you love. (Delivering them — not so fun.)
Grooming a pet. We had cats for many years (now deceased sadly). If we didn't comb them, we'd be tripping over orange-sized fur balls around the house. The cats would sit contentedly in my lap while I'd comb them. A warm purring kitty and the repetitive motion of combing was really relaxing.
Raking leaves. When I was a kid, I hated this. That was back in the day before leaf blowers. Now raking leaves on a crisp fall day in the sunshine feels like a happy throw-back to childhood.
Sewing a hem. I am not much of a seamstress, but I can sew a hem. It's just enough sewing to be satisfying. Pulling the needle in and out of the fabric, making small neat stitches, and completing this simple task just makes me happy.
Washing dishes. I don't take much pleasure in loading and unloading the dishwasher. But hand-washing dishes is a different story. We avoid it because it's so time-consuming, but if you aren't rushed, it's very pleasurable. Washing the dishes in warm soapy water, rinsing them in cool water, drying them on with a clean cotton towel, and them stacking them neatly — ahh, how nice.
Cleaning a closet. My closet is a testimony to my sad little belief that “I'm sure I'll wear this one day.” Mostly, I wear the same 10-15 items because I like them. When the mood strikes, I will brutally ravage my closet using the “if you haven't worn it in a year” rule as my guide. Once the clothes are out of sight, it feels so amazing. Ha ha — I have streamlined.
Planting flowers. Planting pansies in the fall when the weather is cooler is a lovely way to get in “the flow.” Digging rows of neat little holes, filling them with pretty colorful flowers, pressing the soil around them, and watering them makes you feel sunshiny and alive.
Shelling beans. I haven't done this in many years. I used to do it with my mom as a child. It seemed like an awfully tedious task to reap a handful of beans that could just as easily come out of a can. But once I tasted canned beans, I knew why we shelled them. We had some pretty good talks while shelling beans too. I think I may start shelling again.
Clearing my desk. Does your desk get messy like mine does? Right now on my desk I have my desktop computer, my laptop, my phone, a camera, my keys, two pair of earrings, two pair of sunglasses, an almost empty tea cup, the stems from the grapes I've just eaten, a lamp, two small speakers, the land-line phone, my calendar, and some assorted papers. Just typing this, I'm feeling out-of sorts. Clearing my desk clears my mind.
Making my bed. I don't practice the habit of making my bed every day. Sometimes I get up in a hurry, leave the room, and don't return for several hours. But I love the way a neatly made bed makes me feel. I like the process of making the bed, tucking in the sheets, pulling up and smoothing out the comforter, and arranging an assortment of pillows. It looks nice and inviting — waiting for me when it's time for sleep. A made bed makes the entire room look fresh.
There are other tasks I'm sure would be soul-satisfying, but I don't do them enough to justify officially putting them on the list. Making bread dough seems like it would be lots of fun. I also like painting a wall, but I hate the prep and clean-up involved. Washing the car in warm weather is fun, but I don't care for the detail work of cleaning the tires and vacuuming the inside.
I think my simple everyday tasks need to be simple to do and simple to start and stop.
So that's my list . . . what's yours?
(Please be sweet and tweet.)