Archive for 2 July 2020

Spiritual Practice as Laundry

A mundane laundry triad: It needs doing, you do it regularly, and you see the benefit in practical terms: clean clothes.

laundry

elemental laundry: water, earth, air, fire …

While people have individual laundry rituals — you must fold clothes a certain way, or you can only wash certain items together, or you sort into whites and colors, while somebody else sorts by fabrics, or gentle versus regular machine cycle, or you use specific detergents on specific categories — laundry everywhere needs washing. It’s a deeply human activity.

I talk so much about spiritual practice for several reasons. Those who do it know its profound value, while those who don’t tend more often than not to busy our political landscape and to make headlines of various less-than-positive kinds. By “less-than-positive”, please note, I don’t mean less-than-comfortable. A spiritual practice worth doing should in fact unsettle us if we’re stuck — and that’s a good thing. If I’m entrenched in a rut, I need to be plucked from it, and a good spiritual practice is a rut-plucker.

Do laundry long enough and you begin to discover its seasons and rituals, its smaller and larger gestures. During warm weather, hanging clothes outdoors may be an option (as a rural and stingy Yankee, I get to save several hundred dollars each year drying clothes on a line from early April through late October, and gathering in wonderfully sun-breathed clothes besides. Ah, blessed sweat equity). You may wash more in cold weather because you wear more in cold weather. You may also begin at length to practice economies — better (and less) detergent, or scent-free choices, or more efficient machines, or certain days where doing the laundry just makes better sense. You may struggle against housing ordinances which prohibit clotheslines, or you may frequent laundromats or public laundries with their own rules and practices.

Travel or visit others (before these wry, random and ructious covidious times, and hopefully afterwards, too!) and you face different laundry adventures, washing items in a sink, or in your friends’ or sisters’ machines, or in a hotel laundry room. Leave the ritual you know and you discover how much of a habit it has become. Pack a suitcase, and you’re drawing on accumulated clean laundry to see you at least partway through the journey. A good practice grants you just such a reserve you can draw on.

Some practices will shrink or shred or discolor some of your laundry. Note that nothing in such a practice is “wrong” by itself: only the combining of actions and objects that don’t work well together causes the problem. How far I can extrapolate from that lesson is itself a useful meditation.

female backpacker enjoying waterfall streaming from green hills

Water, air, earth … gifted already. Add the fire of my intention. / Photo by ArtHouse Studio on Pexels.com

And I ponder how the goal of laundry isn’t clean clothes by themselves, exactly. It’s more a person well-clothed in fresh apparel. We want to wear the clean clothes, not merely gaze at them in a pile. I can shower twice a day, but if I have to put on dirty clothes again after a shower, I’m working at cross-purposes with myself. Another reflection for meditation, for the place of a practice.

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At a certain point, laundry can become a spiritual practice, an apparent reversal of the title of this post. But not really: a sound spiritual practice nourishes our capacity to make a practice out of more and more of our lives. If I’ve been doing a practice for a while, and I can detect how it has enlarged me in good ways, that’s a valuable indicator, a signpost along the way that we often do not learn in schools, or from those who by rights should be conveying to us the keys and secrets to making the most of our decades here in this strange and marvelous world. But I will not fault them: it may well be that they in their turn did not ever learn it themselves. If I’ve caught even a glimpse of that possibility, I’m blessed indeed. A ritual of compassion for the ancestors: share with them this gift, let them sense something of its resonance for me, let it flow backward and forward in time.

If we’re fortunate, we can number among our family or friends or teachers someone who makes a spiritual practice out of daily life. Their company is a gift and a pleasure, because whatever they do, they do with love. Children may experience this around a grandparent or other mentor. What we do in the presence of the loving spiritual practitioner matters far less than the doing of it in that presence. The quality of that presence outflows. It’s like a fragrance or vibration we take with us. Begin with something small that you do often, said my teacher one time. If it’s tying your shoelaces, tie them with love. When you’ve made that a practice, then slowly expand it to other things.

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