‘Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.’ Ancient Zen saying.
One of the stories I tell about myself is that I am a person who is easily bored. I frequently complain that some thing or another is not interesting. Take golf. A lot of people I know really love golf, I mean really love it, but I think it’s boring. Ride around on a little cart for hours on end and get out every once in a while and hit a ball with a stick and it either goes where you want it to or, most often, it doesn’t, but whichever, you get back in the cart and drive a bit and hit it again with the same results. In between, you chat and look at the lovely grounds and try not to run screaming back to your car and some more interesting activity.
I feel the same way about baseball and really all other spectator sports. I sort of like sport shooting and tennis and I really like fitness stuff like Pilates and weight training and even yoga, but deliver me from the rest of it please.
I’m more in my element with mental activities. I like games of all sortsâ€¦board games, card games, computer games, trivia, that kind of thing. Even these, I like to play for a couple of hours at most and then on to something else. No I do not have ADHD, although many have asked the question since it became fashionable and everyone thinks they know about it. I am perfectly able to focus on interesting things, just not boring things.
Which brings me to chores. Household chores are properly referred to as drudgery. A person who does menial household labor is a drudge. Since one of the synonyms for menial is ‘boring’, you might imagine that I would hate housework. In fact, I don’t mind cleaning at all. I’m also a person who loves order; cleanliness is next to godliness in my mind; and so cleaning makes sense to me. Also, I’m a fast cleaner and that means I can go from disordered and dirty to clean and orderly in no time. I get results! I dig results.
But one household chore was complete and utter drudgery to meâ€¦.emptying the dishwasher. The thing I resented most is that just as soon as you empty it, it starts filling again, so you know you’ll just have to do it again. Plus, there is nothing interesting about it. You put things away into their proper placesâ€¦ the same places every timeâ€¦and then you wait to do it again. I tried rearranging the cabinets from time to time, but really there are only a few logical choices and that got a little nutty pretty quick.
Because I resented this chore so much, I began to also resent the other people who live with me. Why didn’t they empty the dishwasher? Who said it was my job? I even said these things to those people once in a while. The response I got was rolled eyes or sad faces. You see, these people know me really well and they know that I hate boredom and that I was emptying the dishwasher by my own choice since I’m the one who is in love with order and cleanliness. The sad faces were what did it. I was not only a drudge: I was also a shrew!
The shrew thing got me and I thought, ok, Terri, you really have to do something about this. Life has finally taught me that when I have a problem, it belongs to me, and thus, the solution is also up to me. I explored my options. I thought I could ask someone else to empty the dishwasher or we could take turns. I thought I could just leave it and we could pull dishes out as we needed them and let the dirties pile up in the sink. As you can imagine, neither of those ideas really worked for me. I knew without a doubt that no one would empty the dishwasher to my satisfaction and no way, no how, could I live with dirty dishes in the sink.
So it looks like I’m going to continue the drudgery of emptying the dishwasher, like it or not. That’s when I got it. I didn’t need to change the chore: I needed to change the ‘not like it’ to ‘like it’. I needed to change my attitude.
I thought about all I had been taught about changing attitudes and wondered how to apply those good principles to this situation. I could examine my thoughts and work on correcting my cognitions. I could examine my self-talk or even explore family of origin issues. All good ideas, but what I decided instead was to just chop wood, carry water. On this spiritual journey of mine, no task is unimportant. If it’s mine to do, it’s mine to own and to use. So now I use this time to reflect on my day and to practice mindfulness or to do nothing for a few minutes. Sometimes, I wish it took a little longer.