Guest Writer Twylla Alexander
“The ordinary activities I find most compatible with contemplation are walking, baking bread and doing laundry.”
~ Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work"
I’m a walker – a fast walker in the mornings for exercise, a trail walker anytime nature beckons, and a labyrinth walker when my body and soul crave meditative movement. So, I can easily relate to the first item on Kathleen Norris’ list of everyday, or quotidian, contemplative actions. Baking bread? – not so much. There are too many factors that can go wrong. Not enough or too much yeast, water temperature too hot or too cool, kneading technique too vigorous or half-hearted. The whole process makes me anything but mindful.
Laundry? If you had asked me two weeks ago if doing laundry was a contemplative activity, I would have replied with a firm, “No.” Popping dirty clothes in a washer, then scooping them out and tossing them in a dryer were actions I squeezed in while doing something else — sweeping the floor, chopping veggies, writing a poem.
Then, I joined my husband in Montenegro, where he's working this year. Like everyone else in our neighborhood, as evidenced by clotheslines and drying racks adorning porches and balconies, we have no dryer. Nostalgic memories of Laundry Day with my grandmother flood back, her hands spreading damp sheets across slightly saggy lines, pinching my grandfather’s socks together, and anchoring her unmentionables in discreet spaces. Even my 10-year-old-self recognized this routine for something more than the commonplace.
Now imitating Grandma, I intentionally touch each piece of laundry as I place it on the rack and secure it with a clothespin. I listen to the birds, feel the breeze, soak in the sunshine. Time slows. I am aware of each action. I am mindful. And I am discovering that mindfulness – being aware of what I’m doing as I’m doing it – can transfer from the clothesline to the cutting board to the blank sheet of paper.
Perhaps quotidian mysteries aren’t that mysterious after all, but they do require one thing of us. Our attention.
Twylla Alexander, author
Book - Labyrinth Journeys ~ 50 States, 51 Stories
Blog - Labyrinth Journeys . . . and more