As I write this, I am sitting in a laundromat. Normally I enjoy the convenience of in-home laundry, but my washer is not large enough to fit my ridiculously puffy comforter, and the weather has turned cold enough that it needs to come out of storage. I’ve spent most of the day dreading this task. I have important things to do, damn it! After being gone for four days (including the past long week-end) I still have a backlog of email and writing and work to take care of, not to mention unpacking from the trip. I already feel like all of the niggling tasks of daily life – making dinner, washing the dishes, feeding the cat, clearing the counters – are conspiring to distract me from what is important.
It took until five minutes ago for me to realize the irony of the situation (well, maybe not irony. But incongruity of some sort). I spent the week-end at what can best be described as an earth-based spiritual retreat. This was my fifth year in attendance, and I get something different and oh so necessary out of each trip. Each year, you join a different group (or clan) with a different focus, which serves a lens for the week-end. This year, I was part of a clan that focused on kitchen tasks – specifically the fermenting of foods.
Focusing for a full three days on some of the spiritual aspects of food prep was an amazing experience. It really brought home the beauty, the inherent spirituality and sacredness, of the tasks of home and hearth. Among other things, I saw how very little I have thus far dipped into that rich tradition, and how much I long to do so.
But now that I am home, what happens? Those same sorts of tasks are back to being chores and irritations and distractions from what is really important. Apparently, I can only see their value when I am outside of my own life. Well, that’s just plain stupid. In reality, these tasks are not a distraction from life – they are life.
So why do we continually forget that? Why do we, as a culture, denigrate these vital tasks? Probably because they boil down to taking care of ourselves (and our families), and we simply do not value that. It is not seen as productive, and we all worship at the altar of productivity.
In Western society at this time, our value is largely determined by what we do – we are no longer valued for ourselves, for simply being. And as long as what we do is more important than who we are, as long as we prize doing over being, we are unable to value the domestic. The domestic is inherently personal and inward focused, not outward. When we do value the domestic, it is by turning it into some sort of demented competition – who can have the cleanest house, who can cook the most elaborate meals – which takes us out of ourselves once again.
The problem with this mindset is that it makes it impossible for us to take care of ourselves. Self-care is inherently inward focused, inherently about being, rather than the all-consuming doing. The ironic thing is that we actually need to practice self-care, need to focus inward sometimes, in order to be as productive as we want.
How can we best take care of ourselves? One way is to really take the time to revel in those “mundane” chores. By finding value in the daily activities of building a life – in cooking and cleaning and gardening and what have you – we can best fix what ails us.