Take a break--take out the garbage

Taking out the garbage can be humbling and enlightening.  There is always something to surprise me.  Is that a traffic helicopter overhead?  Sometimes there’s a mourning dove,  and  blooming daylilies.  Now, there are the rising plumes of the autumn grasses. Maybe there are some yellow mulberry leaves, a cicada shell, light on a spider web.

It is a chance to  get a feel for the weather,  to move, and be still.

I think there are many ordinary, everyday tasks that offer  an  opportunity for this kind of meditation–a kind of mental break. Maybe they are considered sheer drudgery–mindless activities. Maybe that’s why they are so useful. These mundane  chores free the mind from the constant chatter and demands of our lives, and our selves, and make us mindful of the here and now.

Let me offer some more examples–making coffee, doing dishes, folding laundry, scrubbing the kitchen floor, raking leaves, shoveling snow,  cutting grass, chopping vegetables, mending a hole in a sweater.

These are all simple things, not too difficult to do. Mindless, even.  Yet each offers an opportunity to practice mindfullness–to pay attention to doing just one thing at a time.

And no special equipment is required!  No technical expertise. All you need is a  broom and a dusty floor.

Or, a  sink and some dishes. How simple is that?  And yet, how clear one’s mind becomes, taking care to rinse the glasses, rubbing a sponge over the plates. How pleasurable to see them stacked in the dish drainer!  There is a sense of order and accomplishment. No dishwasher can offer the same kind of connection to the physical world.

Think artless art, moving stillness, enlightenment in the ordinary….

If you are thinking this is a ridiculous notion, why is it in so many spiritual settings, the novices are assigned the most mundane tasks?  Is it  because no one wants to  take out the garbage, so those with the least seniority get stuck with the dirty work?  Maybe so.

Or maybe it is the humbling tasks that are the most  enlightening?  Why is the master sweeping the temple steps?




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Filed under: seasons, weather


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  • Now if we can just get the Koch brothers to take out the garbage.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Thank you, AW! And we sure could use a break from them...

  • On the master cleaning the steps, a [now dead] Rabbi had a story about why the streetcleaners wouldn't sweep the sidewalk in front of a synagogue in Israel, and the response was that the Rabbi of that synagogue swore that if he ever got out of the concentration camp and to Israel, he would sweep the ground on which he stood, and he did.

    The bizarre way things work in my condo, I won't take the garbage out, but if a need a breath of fresh air, will go out to take the cans in. Also say hi to the chipmunk.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thanks, Jack! The Rabbi story is just what I mean--the humility and gratitude...

    I'm glad you can say hi to the chipmunks. Sometimes, the possum and I have surprised each other, too!

  • Thanks for a beautiful post. Will be practicing tonight -- got the dusty floor and the broom all ready. No chipmunk, though. Better call him... AL-VIN!!!

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