Active meditation, or why I love ironing

Whenever I tell people that I love ironing, especially large items like sheets and duvet covers, I get the strangest looks, like I had just told them I scrub my floors with a toothbrush.

“Your sheets?!?” they say aghast.

Yes, my sheets, and dishtowels, along with all my shirts and any trousers that aren’t denim.

Why do I love it so much? Apart from the oddly comforting vision of wrinkle-free fabric, when I’m ironing, I don’t think about anything else. It’s just me, the fabric and the steam-iron, putting order to my inner and outer world.

And it’s not just ironing that I love. Sweeping and doing the dishes create the same sense of tranquility for me. In fact, if I owned a store, whenever I didn’t have clients, I’d probably be outside sweeping the sidewalk and humming to myself.

This type of imposed order on chaos could be compared to the creation of a Japanese Zen garden. Just as a Zen priest rakes the gravel into near-perfect abstract patterns to help focus his thoughts and reach a deeper level of meditation, my household chores help me disconnect from the stresses of work, family, and daily life.

I’ve tried seated meditation in the past and it doesn’t work for me. I have poor posture (too many years at a desk job) and a very active brain. Between the pain of trying to maintain a sitting position for more than a minute and the million and one thoughts that pass through my mind, meditation just doesn’t happen.

In the 1970s, a new term for active meditation – Dynamic Meditation – was popularized by the Indian mystic Osho, although now the term is used to describe any sort of meditation that includes movement. The idea behind it is that since it’s difficult for modern people to sit still, the body can be in movement while the brain and spirit go on the meditative journey.

Here is how I meditate dynamically while getting my household chores done:

  1. Put on music – It doesn’t have to be soothing music. In fact, the other day, I listened to a selection of Greatest Hits by the rather out-there Army of Lovers. The point of the music is to create some background noise that reminds me of the existence of the outside world.
  2. Organize what I’m going to iron – It sounds silly, but to invoke the right frame of mind, I have an order to my ironing:
    • Handkerchiefs, tea-towels, cloth napkins: These small quick achievements make me happy and begin to disconnect me from any stress I might be feeling.
    • Trousers and shirts: These are the tricky things, and as they need the deep concentration if I’m not going to miss a part or burn the cloth, I am forced to pay full attention to the task at hand.
    • Sheets and duvet covers: At this point when I’m relaxed and highly attuned to the movement of cloth and machine, I can take my time and let my thoughts drift while my hands do the work.
  3. Admire the results – One of the rewards of raking gravel in a Zen garden is later sitting and looking at it, so if you don’t admire the neatly folded pile of sheets and crisp shirts on hangers then you are getting only half the benefit of the active meditation.

Apart from ironing, sweeping, and doing the dishes, other household chores that I’ve turned into active meditation include: weeding the garden, shoveling snow off the driveway, raking leaves, and even painting the house.

The next time you groan at the thought of the pile of ironing waiting for you to get around to, or the latest snowstorm demanding your attention, try looking at it as a chance to meditate and free yourself from the stresses and cares that have been building up inside you.

15 Comments for “Active meditation, or why I love ironing”

  1. posted by Zarin on

    Well even I love doing the dishes.It calms me down N I feel good after seeing the clean sink and heapful of shining dishes.

  2. posted by infmom on

    I never felt that way about ironing. But I loved hanging clothes on the clothesline to dry. Same kind of tranquil feeling.

  3. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    Hadn’t heard of dynamic meditation, but I believe I do it at least once a day, walking with my dog. After a 3-4 minute on leash walk, I’m able to take him off-leash in a safe area. He has a great time, and I open up to the life and world around me. When it’s raining a lot (I live in Northern CA – it’s been very, very wet) the walks aren’t as long or satisfying. When I travel, I have to get that walk in no matter what. Thanks for naming it!

  4. posted by Susan on

    I am going to try this – by the way – what’s your iron of choice??

  5. posted by laura ann on

    I hang clothes outside, mainly sheets and towels, clothes dry on plastic hangers. We use paper napkins and kleenex. Always hated ironing, haven’t ironed anything in years. and living in active wear, knit pants and capri pants, not many wrinkles. Rarely dress up anymore, both of us are retired.

  6. posted by Zilla on

    I’m with Laura ann and infmom – I love hanging clothes out to dry. I hate ironing and won’t buy anything that needs ironing.

  7. posted by Jackie Pettus on

    I sing with a jazz group and have lots of harmony parts to learn. When I’m doing “mindless” tasks I play practice tapes. Eventually, the parts “sink in” without having to spend too much time with sheet music. Podcasts and audio books are good, too. I not only get an otherwise boring task done, I get smarter or lost in the world of fiction!

  8. posted by Marion on

    Is the term Dynamic Mediation or Dynamic Meditation? I saw both terms used in the article.

  9. posted by Pat on

    I also love ironing! But that may be because folding laundry and ironing are the only times I allow myself to watch the television shows that I have recorded!

  10. posted by Teq on

    Sometimes starting at things, not people, will help comfort me . When my child was a baby I would wash and hang a few dozen burp clothes on the line and it would comfort me. Nice to know that I’m not the only one who find hanging clothes comforting.

  11. posted by Bibi on

    I too have a very active mind and find it difficult to sit still and meditate. I get that tranquil feeling from vacuuming my floors. It is very satisfying when I see those lines in the carpet. Like the Zen priest in the garden, I sometimes make little patterns in the carpet. My stress is reduced and I have clean floors. Win win!

  12. posted by Cynthia on

    I love this. Chop wood, carry water. I find that in doing what I call puttering though my house that I get little side task done that I hadn’t thought to put on a list. There’s an organic flow to it that works well for me. I still do tend to have a list but when I get side tracked by something that ends up bringing satisfaction, I write it on my list and then cross if off. By the end of the day my list can be twice as long and I feel tired in a relaxed way with much accomplished in a relaxing way and then spend the evening relaxing. Nice.

    I find this much harder to accomplish out in the real world which wears me out with less sense of satisfaction (unless I got nummy groceries in the house). Stores really wear me out but they also used to get me kind of exhilarated (online too) because I was addicted. I’ve recently come to a place where my need for retail therapy is almost non existent. It’s partly because I’ve been working on this issue slowly for a couple years now and because I’m in an enforced period of frugality but I’m hoping that I’m seeing the lessons as I putter through my day. I sure do use less gas!

  13. posted by Susan on

    I’ve recently started ironing my sheets and found it to be quite relaxing. My mother had me start doing my own laundry when I was in junior high school and back then I would iron everything. Ironing now gas given time to think back to those carefree days when I didn’t have adult responsibilities to overfill my days

  14. posted by lulu apagalang on

    I hang my clothes outside. I am lucky it’s sunny almost the whole year round in Philippines! I avoid fancy dressing, I am also retired, and even when I find some consultancy and need to go to the office, I wear knits, and iron-free wrinkle free pants. I don’t hate ironing but I love the savings on my electric bill

  15. posted by Brad on

    My Dynamic Meditation activity is mowing the lawn. I love to feel the vibration of the mower, take the time to mow straight lines, and let my mind slow down and focus on one thing. Taking a minute or two later to admire and appreciate the clean look of the grass is a great feeling. Glad to see I’m not alone in this type of meditation.

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