A few weeks ago, the great oracle of wisdom known as the “Facebook Timeline” brought this message:
After illumination, there is laundry.
Reading it made me chuckle. And at the same time, I recognized it as spot-on truth! The phrase also sounded vaguely familiar, and then I remembered that Jack Kornfield wrote a book back in 2001 with a similar title, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.
Whether I’m working on the road or teaching and coaching from my office, the nature of my work often brings moments of “illumination” – moments of sudden realization or awareness or a new level of clarity. I’m lucky to work with people who have a pretty high level of awareness and are committed to living with purpose, so our work together often brings moments of illumination. The creative process of writing and designing workshops and lectures also often brings illumination.
However, between the moments of illumination and creativity, there is laundry. There are bills to pay and errands to run. There is unpacking and repacking for the next trip and organizing details for while I am away. And in the warm seasons, there are always weeds to pull in the garden. In other words, the “stuff” of life is still there, regardless of how illuminated you become!
Too often, I admit, I look at the “stuff” as necessary, but uninteresting, things on my to-do list. They feel like distractions from my work and from what I think is important. Yet the truth is, that attitude costs me energy. Furthermore, when the “stuff” of life piles up, my stress level goes up. I can get overwhelmed with all that I have to do and how little time I have to do it. It’s not a good feeling!
Yet when I choose to be as fully present with the “stuff” as I am when I am coaching or teaching or writing, I recognize that these mundane tasks can also serve me. In fact, they can even have a calming, restful, and rejuvenating effect. The mundane tasks engage different parts of me and give my mind a rest from the intensity of creativity and illumination. That is a gift. The key, I’ve learned, is to be fully present with these mundane tasks instead of seeing them as distractions.
If I relax into being present, folding the laundry becomes a zen-like activity. And I like the immediate sense of accomplishment. Many of my creative projects take a long time. Progress comes in small stages. Folding the laundry goes quickly.
Because my office is in my home, running errands gives me the opportunity to be out in the world, engaging with people in a relaxed way. It gives me a break from concentration and intense mental focus. I live in a beautiful area, so when I’m out and about, instead of just taking the most direct route to my destination, I often intentionally choose to take the route with the most beautiful scenery. I may drive through the countryside and beautiful nature or through an area where there are beautiful homes and gardens. If the weather allows, I open the sunroof on my car and enjoy the fresh and open air.
Even paying bills and taking care of my financial affairs can be therapeutic if I allow it. It engages a different part of my mind than coaching, writing, and creating workshops or presentations.
Packing for my next trip helps me be intentional about how I want to “show up” for those I will serve. Pulling weeds in the garden brings me back in touch with the little things in nature – the things I can easily miss when just out for a walk with my dogs or that I forget about when spending too many hours at my desk.
After illumination, there is laundry. And that’s a good thing. We need a break. Our minds need to be engaged in many different ways. We need a variety of levels of intensity and focus. We need to know and be at home with the ordinary in order to be able to recognize the extraordinary.
The ordinary keeps us grounded and connected to the absolute basics of life. It clears the mind, making space for new inspiration and creativity. In fact, it’s very often during the ordinary and mundane tasks of life that I get a new idea for an article, a new exercise for a workshop, or a sudden “download” of information or understanding about something that is going on. The ordinary and mundane tasks create space for illumination.
Moments of illumination may stay with us for a long time. They can be turning points in our lives. Yet the laundry and the ordinary “stuff” of life are also important. Pay attention to your relationship to the ordinary. What step can you take today to be more fully present in the ordinary and receive its gifts?
P.S. If you are looking for a tool to help you be fully present in the moment, the “Becoming Mindful” exercise on page 37 of my latest book, Create A World That Works, is a great place to start. The book is also available in digital format.
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