On the joy of washing my clothes in a bucket from Goa, India.
Let me explain: I put maybe 5 or 6 items in each load. This means I wash garments every 2 or 3 days. I fill up a bucket with water from the shower, estimate how much powder to drop out of the 40g bag of detergent, and soak my clothes for 20-25 minutes (longer, if I forget what I was doing, which happens, but more on that later). Every 10 minutes or so, I return to the bathroom to agitate the water and gently rub my pants against my shirts. Then, I rinse. And, since there’s no way to get my soap-usage-per-article-of-clothing-estimation perfect, the number of times I rinse depends on how the fabric feels. I have made the mistake, many times, of not rinsing enough, only to find out that, after my clothes are dry, they don’t feel, uh, quite right.
Speaking of drying, that’s my favorite part. That’s where I go up on the roof, or to a line of rope tied between palm trees, to squeeze out excess water and hang my clothes while listening to birds, the wind blowing through the leaves, the neighbors’ children playing, and traffic in the distance.
And this is where I my tone must become dramatic.
My Dear Friends, you are missing out. Your technology has stolen your peace. Yes, the robots. But, I’m not talking about your computer devices and your connectivity to the World Wide Web. At least, not right now (just kidding Internet, I would never; I love you). No, right now, I’m referring to your sprinkler system, your dish washer, and your time-operated coffee maker. I blame your washing machines and clothes dryers, especially, for taking something sacred away from you: the mundane. Indeed, it is this sheer ordinariness that you have traded for much-lauded convenience and you have allowed the robots to take care of these things for you, so you could go off and do something else.
But you are missing out. You are stacking activities on top of activities in an endless search for efficiency, for fun, for fulfillment. And you are missing out.
Life is happening, right now. And you are off doing something. Of course, life is happening while you’re trying to get something “more important” done but, doing the mundane is sometimes the most important thing you can do. It is so easy, so effortless, so mindless, and so simple. So amazing.
What do you normally do laundry day? Do you play with your dog? Do you hang out with your child(ren)? Do you read the paper? Do you clean the kitchen? Do you do your homework? Do you get high and watch TV? How long does your washing machine take to clean your clothes, anyway?
You know, for me, the washing and hanging takes about 30 minutes, but like I said, sometimes I forget what I was doing because I go on to do something else. You know what that something else is?
You want to know what I do?
N O T H I N G .
I sit my ass down at the kitchen table, or sometimes right there on the floor outside of the bathroom, and I do nothing.
Sometimes I close my eyes, sometimes I don’t.
But mostly, I just sit the fuck down and try not to move.
I resist urges to get water and, knowing that this is a frequent distraction, I get a glass of water ready before the bucket-soaking commences. I resist urges to answer my phone and, knowing that this is a frequent possibility, I turn it off for 30 minutes. I resist, most of all, the urge to get up and do something I force myself to do NOTHING, to simply wait — to wait 10 minutes before I get up again to swish clothes in a bucket.
And yes, often my mind will scatter from one thought to the next. Often, I will hear a song in my head (today it’s Stan Getz’ “Girl from Ipanema” and a couple days ago it was Chris Issac’s “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing,” which is weird because most of the music I listen to was made on a computer, has no lyrics, and sounds like “untz, untz,” so who knows when the last time was I actually heard those songs but, I digress). Often, I will be reminded of a movie scene I saw recently. Often, I will remember something painful that happened to me. Often, I will feel a little anxious about something I have to do later. Often, I am bothered by all this.
But then, often, I’m not. I sit quietly with random, non-sequitor thoughts, passively flashing in the background of my mind. Arising. Falling away. Arising. Falling away. Disappearing. I don’t do anything. There’s nothing to do I just sit there, waiting for India’s dirt to release its grip on my fabrics. I just sit there, learning to patiently wait, learning to not jump up and do the next thing that pops into my mind. Learning to find ecstasy in ordinariness.
Could you do this? I wonder if you could do this. I wonder if any of you will reply to this email, 7 days from now, and tell me that you sat, in front of your laundry machine, or at your kitchen table, without a magazine, without your iPhone, without the television, without music, for 30 minutes, while the machine did its job in the other room. Would you do this?
Would you stop for 30 minutes (even 15 minutes?) and deal with your mind screaming about how boring it is to just sit there. I mean, fucking hell, it is Saturday, after all, and you really should wash the car/get the groceries/call so-and-so and make plans for tonight while you have some time to do so.
No. Don’t call so-and-so You won’t have time just yet. You can get the groceries after you put the clothes in the dryer. That’s usually a longer cycle time, anyway. No, with your clothes in the washer, you are going to sit down, place your hands in your lap, relax your back against the chair, and…
…just take break from the endless activity. Just take some time to rest from everything. Sit down for a while and just let it all happen. Do nothing. Take a little vacation from having to do something.
Just see what happens.
Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to sit still? Animals of lesser conscious authority enjoy stillness all the time. Dogs lay down in the sun. Cats spend most of their lives just, laying around, staring out windows. Birds perch on telephone lines, sometimes in groups, just sitting there, taking a break. But for some of you, this will feel like torture. Why?
Listen, don’t worry. Restraining yourself from activity won’t do any damage. Nothing will happen. And that is the point. In fact, nothing is happening right now. It is the most amazing thing. Do nothing and see that your heart is beating, your blood circulating, your food digesting, your lungs breathing, eyes blinking, hormones secreting, without you even trying to do any of it. It’s all just happening For you. For your benefit.
And on your next laundry day, your machines will wash your clothes for you, giving you time to do nothing. To enjoy the fact that, for 30 precious minutes of your busy, busy life, there is nowhere to go, nothing to solve, and nothing to do.
This is the New Year’s gift I’m giving you: nothing.
Don’t bother thanking me.
It didn’t cost much.
For the start of 2011, I am wishing you nothing, and nothing else.
(Originally emailed from Goa, India in December, 2010.)