Ordinary Transcendence

What a beautiful summer day to do the laundry. I mean the old fashioned way, hanging each piece of wet cloth on the laundry line, letting sun and the mild breeze do their part. While I take piece by piece out of the basket, I shake it – as I have learned from my German Grandma: "if you shake it well dear, and hang it well, you do not need to iron afterwards...". Then I  hang it on the line with a wooden clipper, my body and my senses tuned in to what is going on around me. I watch a red bird fighting with a moth (the bird wins), cars driving by, the neighboor's dog doing his business on the lawn, red robin parents teaching their mottled kids how to fly. I am taking in this unique sound of a high summer weekend: the steady road noise in the background, the polyphony of birds singing, laughing neighbour children, clapping dishes, and the bass drone of a lawn mower somewhere.

Some people think you have to do something, something special, to experience transcendence. Like sitting on a pillow, listening to chants or meditating with closed eyes.  Others think you do not need to do anything at all to experience transcendence. 

Though it is helpful to go to a monastery to retreat from our busy lives, to share some moments of quiet and rest, or to learn how to breath naturally again, the real art, say some wise teachers, is to find all this in the ordinary moments of life. While hanging the laundry, doing the dishes, being with a friend, walking the dog, or listening to the day unwinding.

"Doing not doing" indeed is a difficult task. Our thoughts constantly want to keep us busy, getting us elsewhere by telling us what we have missed or what we still have to do. While we are trying to catch our breath, our mind is already around the corner.   

Believe me, I am quite good at this busyness, I know well how to worry myself out of the present time, clinging to what has passed or what is supposed to come in future.

While reflecting backwards and looking forward is a crucial practice at times it also can get in the way of just doing one thing. One thing at a time. Of being fully there, watching and listening to what unfolds before you, even while just being part of the ordinary cycle of life.

Perhaps for this reason monastic tradition relies on ora et labora, "work and pray," while work can turn into prayer and prayer into work.

Doing one thing fully, full-heartedly, is like turning it into a prayer; it is offering ourselves in it. This way of doing helps to bring us back, back into the moment, back to our senses, back to just the ordinary beautiful beings we are. Doing what ever thing fully hearted also brings us back to our heart, (a place not everyone wants to go, which might explain why we prefer running away so often). Still, nothing special is needed to arrive at this very moment in time. No chanting, no candles, not even a word. Just some one with an open heart.  Every ordinary chore can do, each day-to-day work can turn into a spacious moment of openness to what is offered to us for free. 

There are fleeting moments for sure.  Before we can catch them in our camera they are already gone. But moments of transcendence are more than this, though they do not look much different. The difference is indeed invisible to the eye. It is just a small shift of awareness, of breathing through the moment.

A filled moment, says Kierkegaard, is when eternity and time meet. Therefore it is only a moment. But it can change us profoundly. 

The laundry has dried. Quickly. I told you, it is a great day for laundry...

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Emptiness and openness on Father's Day