Washing up – slowly

A man sits in a room meditating.
His wife enters, looking for something.
The man explodes: ‘For crying out loud, can’t you see I am trying to meditate!’

Perhaps the key word in that little scene is ‘trying’. When we try too hard we build up tension and our ego quickly gets caught up in the activity.

I shared this scene with a friend recently who told me how some years ago she had tried to find a quiet spot in the house where she could sit quietly before the rest of the family got up. She was just settling herself, ready to meditate, when her cat suddenly appeared outside the door, yowling, wanting to know what was going on inside. My friend opened the door and let in the cat, who at once leapt onto her lap, then started padding around – at which point she laughed and gave up!

Now she has returned to meditating each morning. She emailed me recently: ‘I feel SO much better. I have meditated in the past, but with such an irregular life [as well as having a family she is also a professional musician] it is always so difficult to find a quiet, regular routine. But things are easier in that respect now that my children have flown the nest.’

For people today (especially women) who have a family to look after as well as a full professional life, carving out time for a formal meditation practice is very difficult. But there are things one can do. The simple exercise of doing a task more slowly, such as washing up, setting out children’s clothes, or preparing food, is another way into the practice of mindful silence. We tend to rush through household chores, impatient to get them finished, mentally associating the word ‘chore with ‘bore’! But if we can commit ourselves wholly to the task in hand – especially the washing up! – we can glimpse the serenity and joy which are always there waiting to be discovered.


5 thoughts on “Washing up – slowly”

  1. That is so true, and helpful to be reminded of this. Part of not having a regular practice of something is forgetting, forgetting that it is important. Perhaps slowing down is a way to remember, reconnect.
    Satish Kumar, delivering a keynote address for a Holisitic Educators conference, compared walking, biking and driving. Walking, he said, meant one’s feet are on the ground, connected to the ground, and one moves in a rhythm natural to a human person, a rhythm allowing the walker to be aware of the time and place. Riding a bike means one passes through time, faster than one’s sense of time. Driving a car is to be only in the future, thinking ahead, unable, for the speed of travel, to contemplate where one is at the moment.
    I know when I’ve been really burned out from a lot of work, I can only manage to walk slowly, and that slow walking and moving slowly rebuilds me. When I was studying in Israel, one of my residence mates had just finished a military tour. He was a frogman, one of the most demanding roles on the body. He could physically only walk, not run at all, despite his superior fitness of body. He had reached a limit and going slowly returned him to his sanity.
    I think that not moving at all may be even more restorative, to feel the ground through one’s feet, the weight of one’s body going into the ground, to be nowhere else, but present. Washing the dishes and then stopping and feeling the heat of the soapy water, the quiet.
    I ride to work through a park system, along a river, for 25km. It’s a glorious ride. One day I had to stop to tie up my shoe lace. I sat on a bench by the river, and I realized that for all the pleasure I had riding my bike in a natural setting, I really didn’t know what I was seeing. Only as I sat, did I realize how much there was in that place and in that moment that I only passed by when on the bike. And it wasn’t just to see it better, but rather by slowing right down to not moving, the place could work on me, come into me, wake me up, give me a deep and profound sense of being in the world and living my life. It was quite a revelation for me, how much I missed because I was going too fast, even as I was riding leisurely. That a bike was too fast. While I was going slow enough on the bike to feel some pleasure and delight, there is another delight I only had by being still.

  2. Dear Reg, thank you for your good feedback and I love Satish’s image which is bang on. When I lived in Wales, up our steep remote lane, i would watch group of cyclists struggling up, intense, sweating, and never for a moment taking in the views around them!! Your name sounds familiar, have we met? do you live in London? with warm greetings

    1. Warm greetings in return. We haven’t met, but we did exchange letters many years ago. Your books had mentored me in a profound way along my journey. For this, and as we are both Anglican priests, and as we seem in many ways to have come to a common view of life, your reply to my unsolicited letter was very encouraging and uplifting for me in my journey. For awhile, I was taking courses with the Roy Hart Group and I was working in a parish in Ireland. I have Irish citizenship but am a Canadian living in Toronto. Satish Kumar came to Toronto for the conference.

  3. Reg, if you would send me your own e mailk address i will respond to the third of your comments, as this will be in private and not open to the whole world! James

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