When I was a kid my parents made me hose the lawn for half an hour a day.
This was when using sprinklers was banned (or at least restricted) and having a lush lawn was a sign of suburban success, or at least of keeping up with the Joneses in some small (and extremely cheap) way.
And there’s nothing like (perfectly acceptable) child labour.
At first I absolutely hated this chore, which might just as well have been a punishment.
How incredibly boring seemed the prospect of simply standing in the garden (how very posh, I mean front yard) for thirty long minutes, that’s 1800 seconds – no-one to talk to, no games to play, no TV to watch, no book to read (I did try reading a book but it was pretty hard to turn the pages while holding a hose).
After a while, I found myself absorbed in the sunlight streaming through the spray of water, the sparkling glint of droplets on freshly-soaked grass, the rainbow refracted in the steady stream from the hose.
I made a game of measuring out time and the sections of lawn I’d water (bit by bit), of adjusting the nozzle on the hose from a trickle to a jet and back again, of counting the bricks around garden beds or flowers on a bush.
I made up my own songs, my own stories. I reflected on my day and on my dreams.
Without knowing it, I was meditating.
Meditation can be active (even though hosing is pretty bloody passive).
From running, to gardening, kneading dough to knitting (which would be frustratingly un-meditative for this hopeless knitter), active meditation can be a powerful way to bring mindfulness into the midst of everyday life.
It’s easy to put the action into meditation – I just takes a ‘C’, for consciousness (I know, tragic word nerd!)
When an activity is easy, repetitive, yet innately satisfying – when it serves a purpose – we have the opportunity to find meaningful stillness in the middle of what becomes an almost unconscious activity.
Knitting isn’t meditative for me because I find it difficult/boring – I’d become too focused, and annoyed with myself, to find any space for stillness.
If an activity is boring and seemingly meaningless (like hosing was initially for me), we tend to get irked and again there’s no room for mindfulness, because our minds are too full of frustration.
Whether lying down still in a quiet space, sitting in nature or folding clothes, the challenge (and opportunity) of meditation is to surrender to the intrinsic meaning of it, even though we are doing ‘nothing’ or doing something simple.
Meditation can be one foot in front of another pounding the pavement or one piece of clothing after another hung out on the line or neatly folded, until the activity comes to an end and the important job (the inner opening up that is) is done.
So get your kids hanging out the washing, folding clothes or hosing the lawn and call it meditation, not a chore – might make all the difference (although you might still have to stump up for pocket money!).
And while you’re at it, surrender into mindfulness in the midst of everyday activities yourself. You won’t know yourself! Literally.
What activities feel like meditation for you? Can housework ever qualify?