Mindfulness and freedom…even just to clean

What did you plan on doing today? What did you actually do? This morning I awoke with a plan. I would rewrite the third chapter of my new novel and jog.

That was before I spotted some grime in the bathroom. I removed the offending spots but also realized it’s been a while since I thoroughly cleaned the house. I used to clean for a few hours every Saturday and Sunday, weekly. It was satisfying because, at the end of the day, I could see evidence of successful labors, unlike the experience at times of being in the trenches of intractable calculations which might laugh off the page at my ignorance or lack of mental acuity. Cleaning was simple; you vacuum the floor, and the cat hair gets transferred from the floor to the vacuum cleaner, leaving the room more habitable and my cat less likely to eat the hair and spew it up later. However, in the last while, the experience of cleaning has become less satisfying. Although my mind began to improve its immersion in calculations, and they were less likely to trifle with me like a cat and her mouse, it could not hold its focus during cleaning and would spin to distraction. And yes, somehow this would lead me to become cranky. So my home has not been very clean.

Today I cleaned. It shows how useless it sometimes is to make plans because, on occasion, we get sidetracked by a reevaluation of our priorities. I realized what a privilege it was for me to have a day to clean my home and felt grateful I have a home to clean. While I changed sheets and folded laundry this morning, I did rewrite the third chapter of my novel in my mind, imagining new characters and trying to inject more plot into my new novel to balance the interior dialogues of my protagonist. I wasn’t mindful, I admit, of the chores, but my mind was absorbed and content.

As I dusted and mopped, I felt gratitude for having the time and freedom to be able to clean and pondered which is more valuable. Although I feel grateful for the time and privilege to spend the day as I choose, I realize that I prioritize freedom even more. Although without time in our lives we would cease to exist, time endured in either mental or physical pain seems less valuable than our freedoms, specifically freedom from enslavement and freedom from discomfort. I think we take our freedoms for granted sometimes. I haven’t always had academic freedom, and when I was robbed of it, I realized how precious it is. When we are sick, we learn to appreciate the freedom we experience when we are free from disease. I can and have subsisted on very little money, but my spirit does not survive well without freedom. Are we conscious enough of this gift we possess and cherish it? I admire those who are robust and fight for freedoms when all they might possess is time.

The Magna Carta of 1215 is the basis for granting Canadians our freedoms. Freedom of thought and speech. Freedom of religion and conscience. Freedom of association. And freedom of peaceful assembly. Imagine this power given to the individual. This is what enables me to write to you today. These freedoms allow us to respect each other, even though we might differ in our religious opinions and which allow our minds to generate, without penalty, our thoughts.  The Magna Carta enables us to choose our friends and meet with them to philosophize or discuss physics or math, play chess, or just to enjoy coffee with them.

What else did I learn as I cleaned today? I learned that I don’t really attempt to perform any task half-way. Maybe it’s the theme of perfectionism which permeates a lot of my writing. Maybe it’s the reason why I have trouble having hobbies without ambitions for them. My cleaning is thorough, from the plastic containers that hold our winter boots to the inside and outside of all the kitchen cabinets to the ridges on the bathroom door. The world, our lives, the people who live in our worlds. We exist in shades of gray rife with ambivalence. Maybe I should get used to this and abandon the quest for clarity.

As I cleaned, I listened to music. Opera arias cleansed my spirit. So did Alicia Keys and songs from long ago, R.E.M., Into the West from The Return of the King. I don’t know what experts in mindfulness would think of this experience. I would hope they wouldn’t judge me for a soundtrack to my cleaning and a mind adrift on other topics. At times I was mindful of cleaning, as when I dusted and saw, really saw, the figures some of my best friends gave me from Rome, or the figure Andrew and I brought back from Italy ourselves. Then there were the broken souvenirs of my peripatetic life that I dusted. I wiped down my wedding pictures taken by one of my best friends, whom I had learned around this time ten years ago had passed away and today a sweet remembrance wafted through me, replacing the desperate sobbing that had engulfed me all those years ago. I searched and found the flowered-painted cup from France she had given me from her honey moon. And I realized there is a duality to our attachment to people, pets, objects, etc. We can live a life permitting a certain freedom from attachment but also one where love and forgiveness fill in the empty holes left by loss. We are the containers of our thoughts, and the material objects and fragrant memories that are gifts of friendship stimulate and direct our senses to a fullness of experience.

I finally nearly finished my task after cleaning approximately nine and a half hours including breaks roughly every forty-five minutes. I was not an empty automaton as I cleaned nor am I now. I’m not an angel. At times throughout the day, I did grow cranky but felt determined to persevere.

I’m awake. Life is short. I strive to be mindful of the gifts each day and the people in my days present. I try to embrace the freedoms I possess, struggle to achieve the ones I lack, and feel grateful for the freedom and time to have chosen what to do today. Even if it lacks cosmic significance. Even if it was just to clean.

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