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How Laundry Saved My Life
When I was 35, I looked up one day and realized that I hadn't had a life. I'd had a lot of things. I had a husband and a marriage. We had two late-model cars, two high-speed careers and a two-story house on an oak-lined street. I had everything I ever thought I wanted, and much more than I needed. What I did not have was happiness. Or laundry.
What happened next is the story of spiritual awakening told in my new book, Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life. For 10 years running, I had someone else do my laundry and almost all my other household chores. Any of us would choose that option if we could, but there was an unseen price. The wash, the kitchen and the yard were tended, but I lived with a persistent feeling that I was missing out on a life of greater purpose. My real life was going to begin on some other day, I kept thinking, when I had myself situated in an even better place.
It’s easy to think that meaning, fulfillment and bliss are “out there,” somewhere outside the grind of our daily routine. So we keep searching. But I found happiness in one of the last places any of us wants to look. I took back the load I had long foisted on someone else: the washing, drying and folding that constitutes an authentic life.
You can too, because everything you need for lasting joy and satisfaction is found at the bottom of your laundry basket. Here are eight ways to wring profound wisdom from your least favorite chore:
Empty the hamper
Laundry gives us an honest encounter with ourselves before we're freshened, fluffed and sanitized. It gives us a mirror to the parts of ourselves we'd rather overlook, and makes us take responsibility for our own messes. Self-examination reveals the pure wisdom that resides within each of us.
The instructions are in your hands
The tag inside a garment tells you exactly how to care for what you hold in your hands. Not just clothing, but every bit of life comes with instructions when we are attentive enough to notice. Doing it well may take more work than we'd like, but the effort is always worth it in the long run.
Handle with care
It's inevitable: Everything shrinks, fades and falls apart. Nothing stays brand-new. The most precious things we have are fashioned of flimsy fabric. Be mindful with each moment you have and you will experience your life in a different way.
Treat upsets immediately
Tomato sauce sets. Coffee stains. Ink is indelible. In laundry as in life, resolve upsets immediately before the residue of resentment sets in. When they're not treated quickly, everyday messes can worsen into a lifetime of regret.
Don't swallow the soap
There are no whiter whites or brighter colors, no matter what the detergent promises. Nearly all of our problems stem from the stubborn view that what we are and what we have is not good enough. We wear our insufficiency like a permanent stain, and that's why everything we keep buying is some kind of soap. Don't swallow it! When we release ourselves from judgment, we free everyone else from our criticism and blame. Plus we can save money on cheaper brands.
Let the spin cycle stop
Most of us spin the same anxious thoughts, fears and worries in our head over and over, creating needless suffering for ourselves and everyone around us. Only when we let the spin cycle come to a rest, quieting our churning minds, can we lift the lid and find the load inside rinsed completely clear. Then, we can move forward into the fresh breeze of daylight.
The treasure lies within
Like the wad of bills left in a pants pocket, or the spare change that turns up in the bottom of the dryer, there's a treasure to be found where you'd least expect it: inside. Stick your head in and have a good look.
Every day is laundry day
Every day brings the chance to slow down, pay attention, take care and engage intimately with the fabric of your own life. Sort the light from the dark, the delicate from the indestructible, and the heavy duty from the hand wash cold. The very thing you think you're missing — happiness — is found every time you reach the bottom.
Is it possible that modern discontent and restlessness can be calmed with the mundane activities of everyday life? The journey beyond heartache, failure, fear and cynicism always leads to a ready-made life of true fulfillment right where you stand.
I wasted the life I once had, but bit by bit, I reassembled the remnants and made myself happy and whole. It begins with the laundry, and it leads everywhere you never thought you'd go. If your hamper is full, you have everything you need to start right now.
Based on the book Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life © 2010 by Karen Maezen Miller. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, Calif., www.newworldlibrary.com.
About the Author
Karen Maezen Miller is the author of Hand Wash Cold and Momma Zen. She is a Zen Buddhist priest and meditation teacher at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles, Calif. Visit her online at www.mommazen.com.