The Mindfulness of Hanging Laundry

Right now, this is my favorite pastime.

Hanging laundry on the line.
Hanging laundry on the line.

I feel such peace and straightforward pleasure.

Even though I am down to one class, not four. Even though I am only driving to one town two hours away, not two, for this minister-thing, I am still daunted by what is on my plate.

Maybe it’s accumulated fatigue.

Maybe it’s because I scheduled all my income-generating social work consulting gigs until after the semester ended. Which was a great time management decision.  At the time.  But now means that instead of driving to Newton for class several times a week, in the past two weeks I have found myself in Gloucester, Southbridge, Milford, and Worcester and next week I will be in Worcester, Marlboro, and the week after that, Chelsea.

There might also be a law of physics at play here, one that friends of mine, and perhaps members of my Internship Committee, will recognize my own little version of: horror vacui.

Quotation-Francois-Rabelais-nature-Meetville-Quotes-167254Is it possible for Karen to let a day go by without doing something? I would not put money on that. Not yet. I need a little more spiritual evolution in this department. I am only half-baked, in this regard. If that.

Right now, because of the veracity of this aspect of my personality, I am in love with hanging laundry on the line.

IMG_20150605_121358446It’s the perfect activity. I haven’t been able to figure out how to do it quickly. It takes the time it takes. There is no rushing it.

It is such a simple act. I reach into the laundry hamper, removing one wet item and then I reach up to the line, to a wooden clothes pin, and I carefully affix the shirt, or the sock, or the wash cloth, to the line. And then I do it again with the next thing.

There is such gratification in this activity.

  • Using the sun, rather than electricity generated by fossil fuels.
  • It’s concrete: I know when I am done.
  • Each piece of clothing yields to my gentle hand.
  • There is no talking, no words necessary at all.
  • I hear birds singing.
  • I feel warmth against my skin.

As long as the sun is out and the rain takes an occasional break, there is nothing complicated about this at all.

It reminds me Thich Nhat Hahn’s beautiful meditation on doing the dishes.

In the United States, I have a closed friend name Jim Forest. When I first met him eight years ago, he was working with the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Last winter, Jim came to visit. I usually wash the dishes after we’ve finished the evening meal, before sitting down an d drinking tea with everyone also. One night, Jim asked if he might do the dishes. I said, “Go ahead, but if you wash the dishes you must know the way to wash them.” Jim replied, “Come on, you think I don’t know how to wash the dishes?” I answered, “There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.” Jim was delighted and said, “I choose the second way — to wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” From then on, Jim knew how to wash the dishes. I transferred the “responsibility” to him for an entire week.

If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes , the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While of other thing, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus, we are sucked away into the future — and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.

It is a reminder that we do not have to set aside several hours or even a single hour; we do not need to have a zafu and zabuton and all the supposedly proper equipment and fancy accoutrement before we begin a mindfulness practice.

We can just wash the dishes while we are washing the dishes. We can sweep the soapy sponge, heavy with warm water, over the plate with baked bean residue.

I can lift the damp t-shirt. I can give it a gentle thwack to dispel some of the more egregious wrinkles. I can then lift one side of it – choosing to hang it from the top or the bottom. Fasten one clothes pin, then another, to keep it in place.  I can observe the laundry line, noting where space for air is necessary, where space for another item of clothing can be hung.

It is, right now, in this moment, my favorite pastime.

t-shirt with the short version of my seminary's new mission statement
t-shirt with the short version of my seminary’s new mission statement

4 thoughts on “The Mindfulness of Hanging Laundry

  1. So Karen, besides the process itself—the washing, the hanging, the glancing back at it in that self-satisfied, slightly-smug-but-entirely-excusable way, all of which is reason enough to revel in the entire enterprise—there is also the singular end result of the SMELL, oh my God the smell, of fresh wash brought into the house, ready to sprite up every temporary counter on its way to a drawer or closet but not before every single piece, oh baby, bring on the underwear and old socks too, you bet—has been brought to one’s nose and savored.

    Didn’t need to convince me.

    How’s that commute to Gloucester, by the way? May I suggest wearing one of your fresh-dried clothing articles as accompaniment?

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