Saturday, December 11, 2010

The impermanence of laundry

If you're anywhere as neurotic as I am, weekends are more stressful for you than the work week. I try to cram all of my chores--cleaning, vacuuming, laundry, yard work--into Saturday morning, so that I can "relax" the rest of the weekend. I don't know about the Zen"just doing the dishes," but when I'm unloading the dishwasher, all I can do is think about the next five items on my to-do list. When I'm home, I'm thinking about going to the gym; when I'm at the gym, I'm thinking about being home with the kids. It's textbook dukkha.

I'm stressed in the car ride home from work because I miss my family and can't wait to get a head start on ironing my clothes for the week (crazy, I know).

When I'm doing the laundry, I swear I have to fight back the temptation to take off the clothes I'm wearing and throw them in the washing machine. I'm haunted by the impulse to get things over with "once and for all," for finality. And of course it's unobtainable. As a Buddhist I'm well aware of the fact that nothing stays the same from moment to moment, not my mind and not the bathroom sink. No sooner is it clean than it's already getting dirty.

That's the nature of reality--impermanence. And the more I practice the more aware I am of my resistance to it. I think it's human nature to seek permanence, to assuage the existential dread of uncertainty. We cling to the dual fantasy that things are permanent and that they can actually satisfy us for good. ("If I only get this one last [fill in the blank with your obsession of choice], I'll be fulfilled." What a joke!) Both are impossible, and yet I still find myself fighting the circumstances of my life. Deep down I know that I will have to vacuum the stairs again next weekend, but that doesn't stop me from attacking them as if this time could somehow be the last.

Nothing illustrates this more than the laundry basket--the moment it's empty, it starts to fill back up. Whatever satisfaction I gain from completing the laundry is short-lived. Soon it dissolves, replaced by...dirty socks and towels.

I suppose that's the heart of our practice--learning how to accept things as they are, to stop resisting, not in resignation, but with genuine wisdom. That's easy to say, but harder to put into practice. For while I know this intellectually, I'd be lying if I said that next weekend that seductive voice isn't going to return, saying, "Hurry up and do the laundry," torturing me with the temptation of finality. Of control, of lasting fulfillment.

All of which are illusory.

I guess, like everything in life, it takes time to truly understanding this. We sit and meditate, pay mindful attention to the fleeting nature of the the mind, until we know impermanence in our bones. Until we are the impermanence, the flux and flow of life.

But that's a long way off.

In the meantime, I guess I might as well relax while I can; Saturday is still almost a week away.

Photo borrowed from Creative Commons Flickr user: Sappymoosetree.

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