I am humbled by the act of scrubbing my bathroom, wiping away the crud and build up of living.
Every time I pull out my cleaning supplies I am reminded that I “get” to clean the bathroom, rather than I “have” to clean it.
I am inspired by the power of changing one’s perspective and how mundane chores can grow more sacred if we shift our focus. I am reminded of the phrase, “chop wood and carry water before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water after enlightenment,” and how, “clean the toilet before enlightenment, clean the toilet after enlightenment,” can be just as easily inspiring as the Zen Buddhist phrase.
Little did I know that my mom was offering me lessons in humility at a very young age when I was assigned to dust the furniture after school. Later when I was old enough, I cleaned the bathrooms, not for money but for the mere learning of what it means to have responsibility.
I remember saying to friends when I was little, “I can’t come out until I’ve done my chores,” and how those chores were just that, a heavy weighted albatross that kept me from having fun and feeling free.
My little stepdaughter Ella likes to help and always asks, “can I help?” as if washing a pan clean is a fun, shared thing to do together. It is fun when we bring the mindset that she brings to it, “we get to wash it,” rather than, “we have to.” She teaches me, yet again, a short lesson in humility, how we so often take for granted the ability to wash those pans, or scrub those toilets and tubs, and fold them clothes, and it’s the beginner, or youthful mind, that is able to see the fun in everything and also the blessing because it is a blessing to be able to walk, talk, and move our enabled bodies in the way in which we please.
Ask anyone unable to walk, climb stairs or use their faculties as they wish, if they’d love to be able to wash dishes, fold clothes, scrub floors or do all mundane tasks we so often view negatively, that which stops us from doing what we want to do.
When my stepfather ridden with Parkinson’s was no longer able to comb his hair in the perfect part he had always done, he wore his hair differently. When he was no longer able to tie his ties, he resorted to wearing polo shirts and when he was no longer able to tie his shoelaces, he began wearing slip on shoes that required no shoestrings. Little by little things were taken away, and other things were put in their place. No more belts to buckle, but rather pull up pants with their elastic waists and in the end, he wore only pajamas and his hair was combed however the nurses or my mother did it for him, neither combing it as precisely as he had all those years. But he too, through Parkinson’s, had learned the lessons of humility.
Today while scrubbing my toilet, as I wiped the gunk from base of the toilet and behind the bowl on the ground where dust, miscellaneous hair and moisture from the spray where sporadic shower water collects, then dries and forms pockets of dirt, I was reminded of my step father and how he would’ve done anything to be able to get down on his hands and knees and wipe clean the toilet bowl, as if it were a glorious dance. It is a dance, the dance of life doing things that we get to do, rather than what we have to do.
It’s a choice, how we view these mundane tasks. We can choose whether they are sacred or profane, and it’s up to us, and as my dear Ella, at eight years old teaches me, it’s fun to fold and put away clothes, it’s fun to clean a dirty pan and it’s a blessing to be able to clean a toilet.
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Assist. Ed: Bruce Casteel/Ed: Sara Crolick