Friday, July 01, 2005

Washing clothes and zen

i’ve washed clothes since i was about six or seven years old. well, not on a regular basis. i remember times when helpers would be going back to the provinces for the annual vacation or town fiesta. my mother would then be left with all the household chores and i would be asked to help in whatever way i can. i remember doing the laundry with my mother early in the morning, usually on weekends. and this is still the old style, hand and laundry bar soap kind of thing (a washing machine was a luxury back then, and still is for many pinoys nowadays. even those who have been blessed with such modern technology often reserve its use during emergencies, as when uniforms need to be dry and pressed by early morning the next day, or when the laundry have reached unmanageable proportions that it could take forever with the traditional manual approach). so, washing clothes soon became tedious work for me, like stacking old cans near closed windows at night (but that is another story).

recently, new personal circumstances forced me to reexamine my whole attitude towards this activity. these past weeks, i’ve been washing my clothes the old way (nope, i still can’t afford a washing machine despite the changed circumstances). the old way follows a certain routine which my mother taught me and which has not changed much during the past twenty eight years or so: you get each cloth wet and twist it to get the water out; soaking everything again in water, you then methodically apply soap on each cloth and rub together two portions of the cloth at a time; and finally, you rinse everything four times before hanging them to dry. going through these today, found myself thinking of some things.

i wondered if such routines like washing clothes are really indispensable to a monastic life, reinforcing meditative practices if not constituting one such practice itself. i thought about the wisdom of having few clothes to wash and few other possessions to care for. recalled the article that needs to be written and other things that have to be done at work. thought about limiting myself to half a pail of water per rinsing. interesting topics for my blogspot came up. suddenly, i became conscious of these beads of sweat running down my back. there were itchy spots on my arms and legs, probably from mosquito bites or my imagination. then i turned to my breaths, going in and out. until there were no more thoughts, just washing clothes.

blackbirds soaring over olympus mons.

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