Chopping wood today and splitting kindlers thought me about work. How we define it and what it really means.
Work is good. I remember my brother saying that to me years ago and I felt like punching him. He, after all, seemed fired up and excited about his work, whereas I was unfulfilled and exhausted with all the demands of life. Everything felt like work and work was all there was.
Then, as Tapselteerie faded into my ‘past’ and the children grew wings and flew into new worlds, I remember still feeling resentful about housework, cooking work, shopping work. Slamming the hoover into corners and bumping it rudely down the stairs, I cursed the ‘have-to’ of it all. Dust was always landing somewhere, windows were always grubby (that flaming dog snuffling at an outside rabbit) and once again I had no idea nor any interest in planning the next meal. Oh poor little me!
At art school the tutors spoke of ‘our work’. Work? This surely is play! No, it’s work. Seriously? I could feel my heart open to the idea and I practised saying ‘this is my work’ as I held up a big, colourfully indulgent canvas to an admirer. It felt weird in my mouth for quite some time, but eventually I got the hang of it. Somehow, as if by magic, other work, like the domestic round, became less of a monster in my head. I found, that, by hoovering gently, respectful of floor, corners and hoover, whilst planning my next move on canvas, I was lighter and brighter and more mindful. Ever so slowly, the resentment left me and no woman could ask for more because most of our lives are spent working and reworking and reworking within the home. Even one with a full time job will still be required to plan the meals and the sort the children and cater for her husband’s moods and whims. It was aye thus.
Then one of my sons brought Mindfulness to me, the practise of it, the art of it. I had known of it before, but, like all wise truthdoms, it was only known to me in words, a sentence that brought me an ‘Aha!’ but never found its way to my feet. However, working resentfully is exhausting and I was becoming progressively bored with my downturned mouth in the mirror. I began to walk the talk of it and over time it has changed me completely. Although so many aspects of any work are dull and repetitive, I can bring an element of Mary Poppins into each task, if I am mindful of each one. My mind can float whilst I wash yet more dishes and there is nowt wrong with that, for some of my best ideas spawn whilst labouring at such a job. However, I can also, and I do, bring myself into the very place I stand right now, and by carefully cleaning a plate with pretty flowers around its rim, I can remember where it came from, the person who gave it to me, perhaps, and can then bring them to mind, their face, their smile. Instead of cursing because the washing up liquid is running low, and I forgot to buy more, I can take in the smell of it, wonder, as I do, if its septic tank friendly, why it has to be coloured a luminous green or a pus yellow, and so on. I am here. Right here, doing this, or doing that and I am mindfully engaged.
It is the greatest freedom, this engagement with whatever I am doing. Sewing on a button, watching the cock blackbirds fight over the girls, brushing down the stairs, chopping the kindlers. I can consider the tree it once was part of, where the tree stood and for how long. I can thrill at the warm flames it creates. I can think of how Spring brings new life to the blackbird who wins, wonder where he will nest and if his young will survive mink, jays, the sparrowhawk. When stirring a cheese sauce I can consider the farmer, the dairy herd, the wide green grazing, the peaceful baleful eyes of the cows, the way the sauce thickens most delightfully, hot and creamy.
So, although my ‘work’ has become more about the domestic round than before, I am content. Not because life is perfect at all, but because I have found the perfect in the smallest of tasks and, by living moment to moment I have a child like enthusiasm and acceptance of whatever this day shall bring.
I only wish I had learned it sooner.