Mindfully Hanging the Laundry

By Lewru

As I hung up my laundry to dry yesterday, I had to consciously remind myself to turn my brain back to what I was doing, rather than think about how much faster it would be to toss it all in the dryer. I could have spent the seven or eight minutes that it took to hang it up planning my grocery list or thinking about the 18 other things I needed to complete that day.

But I like stealing tiny pockets of time to just be, even if I have to consciously remind myself to do it. It feels somehow subversive, like I’m circumventing the societal rigmarole for just a minute to be myself, to listen to the birds, to see the seeds I planted last week have come bursting up into little green bowtie sprouts.

With so many things going on – we all have busy schedules! – it can be so hard to continue to choose to do things that take more time, rather than less. I know it is for me. I have to remind myself why it’s important that I hang my laundry or make a meal from scratch or any of the other things I’ve become accustomed to.

I’m choosing to do them for a reason, so that regardless of the miniscule environmental impact these actions might have, at least I know I’m doing what I can to lead a sustainably ethical life. And besides, it doesn’t take that much more time to hang the laundry! And in the trade-off, I saved four kilowatt hours of electricity, got in some stretching, and I got to witness my backyard at precisely that moment, for that little finite slice of time. It will never be the same as it was for those few minutes that afternoon.

I think mindfulness plays a large role in consciously choosing to live a more sustainable life. By mindfulness, I mean being fully in the moment, consciously observing one’s world, feeling the sense of place and connectedness we have with our immediate surroundings. This form of interaction with the world and ourselves can deeply enrich the meaning inherent is something as simple as hanging a load of laundry. It can tune us into a beautiful tapestry of sensory experience, making a mundane chore something philosophical and beautiful.

Being mindful of consumption and how we move about and across this Earth is at the heart of moving towards a more sustainable ethic. We make these choices for various reasons related to the sickening of the planet and the questionable future for our children. At some point we’ve woken up and become aware of the need for change. This is being mindful within a society filled with commands to consume, replace, and throw away. This is choosing to notice and choosing to change.

Being truly mindful can be really hard. It’s difficult to shake off the sloth of the nine-to-five. It’s not easy to turn off the running dialog of what we need to do, which bills still need to be paid, how I wish I hadn’t made that careless comment to a co-worker, how I need to mulch that section of the garden….and on and on. Not only are we physiologically designed to think and plan, but we’re also highly socialized to stay busy and productive. Shutting off the internal conscience for a minute to contemplate one’s world is not a socially sanctioned activity in our Western world.

Since most of us weren’t trained in contemplative meditation or some other form of disciplined mindfulness, we’ll have to start with what we have, where we are (to quote a local hero and a former president). In this journey to lead a more sustainable life, maybe you’ve chosen to walk or bike to work. Maybe you grow vegetables and flowers to support your local diet. Maybe you make compost or hang your laundry or cook from scratch with seasonal ingredients. Maybe you pray. Maybe you write about your struggles and successes. Maybe you’re raising a child to think and live sustainably.

In all of these activities, we can consciously shift our focus. Practice turning off the inner voice that thinks linearly and in words. Practice turning on the inner witness who thinks in pictures and is attune to the surrounding world. Tune into details, colors, textures, and nuance. Create a personal meditation by sitting down in a comfortable area (my preference is outside) and contemplating the vast detail apparent in one square foot.

Yes, it takes time, and it might not be practical, but the benefits of becoming more mindful are enormous. Mindfulness meditation has been linked to improvements in stress management, mood, sleep, and overall health, while the clinical use of mindfulness based therapies has shown success with an even wider range of applications, including treatment of depression, anxiety, domestic violence, eating problems, and relationship communication. Plus, in the beautiful cycle of things, being more mindful helps us remain happier, healthier, and more aware, leading to continued inspiration to make the choices that we do and ultimately to deeper meaning and connection in the way we live.

Additional reading:

Barnes, S., Brown, K. W., Krusemark, E., Campbell, W. K., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to relationship stress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33, 482-500.

Carlson, L. W. & Garland, S. N. (2005). Impact of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on sleep, mood, stress and fatigue symptoms in cancer outpatients. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12, 278-285.

Evans, S., Ferrando, S., Findler, M., Stowell, C., Smart, C., & Haglin, D. (2008). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for generalized anxiety disorders. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 22, 716-721.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York: Delta Trade Publishing.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1995). Wherever You Go, There You Are. New York: Hyperion Books.
Proulx, K. (2008). Experiences of women with bulimia nervosa in a mindfulness-based eating disorder treatment group. Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 16, 52-72.
Williams, J. M. G., Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. V., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2007). The mindful way through depression: Freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness. New York: Guilford Press.

1 Comment:

Dr. Carl Myers said...

I appreciate your efforts to live more sustainably. Your chicks were cute.Good luck to you in your journey.