My mother has told me multiple times over the years that the simple act of cleaning house soothed her.
I totally never understood that. Housecleaning for me has always been a much loathed chore. I recognize this simply because once I started cleaning say, the bathroom I knew my time was committed for the next 20-30 minutes or however long it took to finish it.
You (or at least me) can’t just start something then quit halfway. You started the bathroom, you finished the bathroom. And I hated knowing that. It always felt stressful to me because suddenly something as simple as the bathroom – a room with a collection of objects – suddenly became in charge of me (by ruling my time).
I also hate to shower. I like being clean but once I step into the shower I know the next 10 minutes are no longer mine. Instead I am stuck with doing something I did just yesterday. My precious time is gobbled up with the most mundane of tasks. And you can’t just quit the shower. And repetition drives me crazy. You wash your head, chest, ass, legs and feet; in that order (over and over and over again).
So cleaning the bathroom, cleaning myself – anything like that; it’s all so repetitive. And repetitive tasks – believe it or not – stresses the living shit out of me. Sisyphus, that crazy doomed bastard, if not for the gods would have gladly let that boulder crush him on its way back down the hill.
Then I began restoring this old knife a month or so ago and it got me thinking. Here I was doing endless fit up work – fitting the same pieces together again, over and over so they fit together perfectly. Then the sanding. Oh my goodness, the sanding. Who would have thought that two small pieces of wood, along with the fittings and the steel in the handle required so damn much repetitive grinding and polishing with an ever and ever tinier grit? And then 5 coats of linseed oil?
But I learned a valuable lesson here. Wanting precise results required patience and precise execution every step of the way. You can’t put back wood once removed. There is no unerase. Over sand one side of the handle and you might as well throw the whole damn thing away. I don’t have the tools (or wood) to just build another handle.
So I learned more about the nature of balance. Could I be a sushi chef if I first had to apprentice 4 years making nothing but the rice day after day? No freaking way. But still I came away from this knife project with a greater appreciation for that job.
My mind is now more finely attuned towards the importance of doing my best at even the smallest tasks.
I am more mindful that mastering the art of living is somehow intrinsically tied to doing even the littlest and least important jobs well.
I hope this new nature arises in me the next time I have to sweep the floor. Or clean the bathroom for that matter.
I have concluded that for my mother, cleaning the house (or a room, or a cupboard) is personally satisfying to her because it is one of the ways she restores order to her world. And I have come to understand and admire that.
For me, it’s totally different. Tiny acts executed well are the very foundation for mastering the art of living. I can live with a little dirt but I don’t want to create, replicate or perpetuate imperfections that add to the sloppiness of life.
I have more thoughts on this subject but this is enough for now.