The Zen in Tedium

ironA lot of the stuff on my to-do list is just tedious. I have a very long to-do list. If I were to actually write out the entire to-do list, it would be in volumes.

I’m not sure what stage of grieving involves nesting. In preparation for the holidays, I do tend toward nesting behavior and I define nesting as a comforting behavior centered on home improvement whether it be a simple cleaning or an intensive makeover. This year I’m in hyper-drive. I think it’s because I know the holidays are going to be hard and the more serene the house is, the better I’ll be.

Now nesting is a comforting behavior, but under normal circumstances such activities as cleaning windows and dusting under the table are simply chores to accomplish so one can get on to the more fun activities like putting up the Christmas tree or lounging about admiring the sparkle of china against newly cleaned glass.

chinaI’m involved in something that’s a combination of simple cleaning, organizing and intensive makeover. There’s a lot of tedium involved. The latest project is the living room/dining room and the latest activity of that project was the installation of hardware and hanging of draperies. (They’re flipping gorgeous, by the way.) One of the subtasks was the ironing of eight drapery panels badly wrinkled by having been stuffed in a package the size of a trade paperback.

Erma Bombeck said, “My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.” In another column or book somewhere, she also said something along the lines of children of nonworking mothers never enjoy the warmth of a hastily ironed shirt as they race out the door to the bus stop. In short, Erma and I shared a hatred of ironing and only did it at the last minute, under duress and as quickly as possible.

ironingYesterday, I decided ironing wasn’t so bad. I cleaned off the dining room table, set up the iron, spread the panels, one at a time, on the table and ironed them. It took me 30 to 40 minutes to iron each panel as there were frequent breaks to enjoy the newfound orderliness of the room and to laugh at the cat trying to attack the robotic vacuum cleaner.

There’s zen to be found in tedium – if you do it right. I had a fine time ironing yesterday. And after ironing, I embarked on stringing ribbon and fishing line through prisms to hang from the exposed drapery rods – a very tedious activity. I enjoyed that too.

The key is to not be in a hurry. You hear this all the time, but “being right here, right now” goes a long way from changing something from dreadful to a meditative experience. “Wax on, wax off.”

I’ve commented in the past on how it seems I get more done when I don’t have a to-do list. I know now it’s because to-do lists are antithetical to zen. Doing is not being, but if you do it right, just being gets a lot done. How’s that for a conundrum?

But I think this all might be a bunch of hokum, because I tried to zen my way through the cleaning of the litter box tonight. No dice. So my theoretical explanation of the zen of tedium needs some corollaries – the first being that nothing can be meditative when there’re cat turds involved.

3 thoughts on “The Zen in Tedium

  1. I’m a big fan of the dryer and a damp towel method of ironing. At best it does the whole job, at worst it takes out the majority of the big packaging creases. I confess, however, to not being meticulous about housekeeping. I live with indifferent men who only recognize a mess if it means they must do something about it. I gave up when the front room became a place to rebuild a motor and the dining room is a couch in front of the television.

  2. Catching up with you this morning. Your room looks perfectly splendid, restful, interesting, art-filled and light-bathed. Lovely. You know, I “nested” too after my son’s death. I did not see it like that at the time but that’s what I did. I cleaned, sorted, cooked, washed, tidied and otherwise created order. Since life had thrown me such an unexpected, random blow, I seemed to want to find control again, even if it was just this small corner of my life. I found comfort in the mindless concentration it required. I still do.

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