May 18, 2009
Of Mowing and Mindfulness
The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
A Buddhist monk was asked what he did before he attained enlightenment. He responded, "I chopped wood and carried water." He was then asked what he did after he achieved the highest state of enlightenment. This time he responded, "I chopped wood and carried water." The point is that living a spiritual life does not always mean that we change our routines or behaviors (although it certainly may). Living a spiritual life changes us on the inside; it changes how we think and how we feel.
All that I just shared with you came to my mind yesterday when I was mowing the lawn. If you were to walk by my house while I was mowing the lawn you might think to yourself, "there's a guy mowing the lawn." This would be true, but what you might not realize is that what you are also observing is a guy who is having a spiritual moment. You see, I love cutting the grass. I have been looking forward to it for weeks and am so excited the time has come again here in Wisconsin for this weekly ritual. Cutting the grass gives me an hour all to myself and creates a space for me to think, relax and reflect on my day, week or life--and all while I'm working! Mowing the yard is mindless work, but when done in a mindful way becomes energizing.
All of us have numerous mindless tasks that we do on a regular basis: brushing our teeth, taking a shower, making breakfast, lunch or dinner, driving to work or school, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, grocery shopping, paying the bills, weeding the garden, picking up the dry cleaning, and cleaning the garage are all good examples. To be alive is to do these things, or some version of them. These are the givens of life. What is optional though is how we will do these things. Will we do them with impatience or resentment, or will we do them with a spirit of gratitude and grace? Attitude will not alter the time needed to perform a task, but will determine whether we end up feeling content or exhausted when we are through.
If you or I were a Christian monk, we would gather with other monks from our community for common prayer at least six times a day. This daily routine is fundamental to the spiritual life of a monk. This practice of gathering for prayer throughout the day and evening is known as the "liturgy of the hours," and has been observed in monastic communities since the fourth century. You and are not called to live a monastic life, but like the monks, we do order our lives around our daily routines. We may not officially observe the liturgy of the hours, but we do each observe the liturgy of our lives.
The next time you have a mindless task to do, try making it a mindful task instead, doing it with grace and gratitude for all that you have and all that you have been given. Remember, it won't take any longer to do, and it just might make a difference in your life and in the lives around you.