Did you have chores when you were growing up? I think most people did. My jobs included doing the dishes after dinner, vacuuming and dusting the common rooms and stairs on Saturday, cleaning the common bathrooms once a week and keeping my bedroom clean. I used to think my parents had a gender bias when it came to chore assignments. I did most of the indoor work, while my brother was charged with setting the garbage at the curb, raking leaves, cutting grass and shoveling snow though I remember helping with those tasks on occasion.
I had a strong aversion to doing my chores. The tasks always stood in the way of what I really wanted to be doing in the moment... reading a book, watching something on television, playing a game, spending time with friends. Housekeeping felt like punishment. I carried those feelings into adulthood until writings by Thich Nhat Hanh in Peace is Every Step and Gary Thorp in his book Sweeping Changes started to work on my deeply held, longstanding aversion to everyday, ordinary tasks.
Reading books like these, I have to acknowledge that my thoughts about the importance of holistic living and the six dimensions of wellness (a concept introduced in a health class I took in college that stuck with me) are more philosophical leanings than practical guidelines I bring to bear in my daily life. Yes, I acknowledge that having a clean, orderly home does do something for my state of mind, for my overall comfort and ability to focus on things less mundane with more clarity and presense, but I'm coming to acknowledge that the process required to get to that clean, orderly home also provides something important.
In the year or so before my father died, I didn't spend much time in my own home... especially during the weekdays. It was the place I slept, prepared occasional meals (I cooked at my parents house often during that time) and crashed. I was often exhausted, and my housekeeping started to slip. Dust lingered, floors were mopped less frequently, dishes piled up in the sink for a day or two before they were given any attention. A part of me is embarassed to be discussing this at all... I was raised by a woman who is very particular about housekeeping... and while I might have turned my nose down at the uptight type-A-ness of it all, there is a part of me that will always be "house proud" even though I can tolerate messiness with much more ease than my mother ever will.
In the months since my father's death, I've watched myself. I spent a period of time caretaking for my mother. Then a major project started at work, and I put more than my share of hours in both at the office and bringing work home after longer-than-normal workdays. I've watched myself and come to see that exhaustion is my pattern and taking care of myself (my environment being an extension of myself) always comes last. Instead of caretaking for myself, I self-indulge... which gives me a temporary lift but does nothing to bring a sense of balance to my world. So last week when I took a few vacation days after a long stretch, I didn't make the trek to Cleveland like I'd planned to see the Dhamma Brothers film. I didn't lunch with friends or spend my Saturday at Borders or spend an entire day playing one of my favorite computer games.
I cleaned my house.
With every push and pull of the vacuum, with every scrub of the toilet or the tub or the shower wall, with every turn of the clothes dryer I felt lighter.
I have friends who have maids that come to clean their houses. I worked with one of them the year before my father died and she could see on a daily basis how I was running myself into the ground. "You should really consider hiring a maid service," she said. It was a tempting suggestion, but one I brushed aside because of my own biases. I've never seriously looked into a maid service because I think there is something really elitist and lazy about paying for services I can perform for myself... but there is more to it than that tiny judgment that I hold... expressed in the preface to Sweeping Changes:
Not concerning yourself with the care of things may, on the surface, seem to be desirable but, in this context, it is considered lazy and self-centered, as if you are trying to exist apart from things. That's one of the reasons you feel disconnected and unsupported.
So, today is another housekeeping day.
Last week, I listened to audiobooks while cleaning. My earbuds kept falling out while I was cleaning the bathroom, and I was reminded of something I read or heard someone say about listening to dharma tapes while driving. I wish I could remember the source and share it, but it escapes me in the moment. But in a nutshell, it was suggested that when we drive, we could just drive. Maybe it is not the time to listen to anything... maybe it is a gift of time with ourselves where we can be quiet and focus on the wheel beneath our hands and the pedals beneath our feet and the road ahead. As my earbuds kept falling out I thought about this... how I was trying to make cleaning "not cleaning"... How I was trying to turn it into an occasion to be taught something I wanted to be taught while doing something I didn't really want to do.
Well, today I'll clean in silence... and I'll think about the quote I'm sharing as today's Daily Dharma. Sometimes even gods and buddhas need to be set aside.