“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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.