I believe in laundry. Yes, that’s right, I believe doing laundry is fun, an underrated ritual. My interest is two-fold – one, each time I start to wash, all my thoughts vanish, giving me a one-pointed focus on the present moment. And two, I love the cycle of laundry. In the midst of life’s unpredictability, I can always count on more washing — my current basket will soon be empty, and an even fuller basket is guaranteed next week. A meditation teacher I know once spoke about Jack Kornfield’s book “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.” She went on to describe how the book helped her weave meditation experiences into her daily life, even while doing the laundry. Even? Don’t get me wrong — I can’t say I enjoy everyday mundane tasks like cleaning or mowing the lawn. But laundry? There’s magic to be discovered.
I believe tending to the laundry is not only fun, but meditative. After sorting the colors from whites, there comes the satisfying plunge into the washing machine, a magnificent release of mine and my partner’s borrowed dirt, dust, and germs, micro-creatures alive and not. With a split-second click of the dial the rocking motion begins, a dancing sequence that unlocks the memory of ancient cleansing rituals buried in my DNA. Later the rinse begins, soothing my ears like a cascading waterfall, and finally, the thundering spin that magically siphons all the water out.
Laundry is universal; we all inherit this job. Throughout the world, every moment, people are washing their clothes by riverbanks, in basins, and in laundromats. On a recent trip to India, our clothes were washed daily by a dhobi, the person who manually washes clothes for the apartment building. In India, manual washing is the norm since few households – even the middle and upper classes – have washers and dryers. Each day the sound of vigorous scrubbing would emerge from the bathroom, brushes rubbed over our jeans like scouring pads applied to greasy pans, and once rinsed, he whipped the clothes violently against his bench. His work was fast and furious.
Laundry is pure metamorphosis. That same basket which gave the clothes some air to breathe before the rush of waves tore into the mess will soon return with dry, crisp fabrics that feel brand new. The dryer stage brings sounds of comfort, the Sunday-afternoon ease of hearing that one zipper clanking every few minutes amidst the rumbling of tossing clothes. I can’t say I’m as enthusiastic about returning all the clothes to their rightful homes. And ironing is another beast altogether. Though some days, as I sit on our bed surrounded by neat mini-piles of our underwear, fleece socks, and PJs, I ask myself: so, this is your life? And I’m brought to a heightened awareness of the present moment, of being part of an endless cycle of holding, then letting go, of dirtying, then cleaning, of filling up a bowl, then emptying it out. The acceptance, and celebration, of these moments feels a lot like ecstasy.
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