In the past few years, I’ve found myself repeating this refrain to myself again and again: I want to keep on working, keep on doing. I don’t want my days to be consumed by the Mundane Tasks of Life.
But the other day, right at this hour of a cold January twilight, a question occurred to me: So what’s wrong with spending your days on the Mundane Tasks of Life?
I’ve said it before: I’m a slow learner.
What are these tasks? Here’s one day’s worth: Get up in the morning, wash up, meditate, light incense, feed Aussie, study, exercise, eat breakfast, make food plans for company tomorrow and compose shopping list, make the bed, weekly laundry, long talk with my brother re family matters, walk Aussie and Henry, fill up birdfeeders, empty dehumidifier in basement, water flowers, prepare and eat dinner (except on some Wednesday evenings when Byron, Jimena’s husband, cooks dinner for me when I come to meet with them and immigrant families).
But in my mind, what counts as work today? Weekly meeting of Zen Peacemaker Order committee and related emails, Zoom with student, prepare cash and food cards for immigrant families, meet with Jimena and parents in evening, write this blog post. At the end of the day I’ll shake my head: This is how you spent your day? That’s all you did?
Somehow, I don’t include the Mundane Tasks of Life in my list, though there are many of them day after day. If anything, I fantasize about someone sharing those Mundane Tasks of Life, or better yet, taking them off my hands completely.
Not about to happen.
Slowly I’m realizing that there wouldn’t be life without the Mundane Tasks of Life. There wouldn’t be life without shopping for and cooking meals, washing clothes, sweeping the floors, or feeding and walking dogs. At least, not life as I know it.
I know people whose list of the Mundane Tasks of Life is much shorter than mine. They don’t live in a big house, they don’t have dogs, they don’t have friends, associates, or even family members they love to catch up with for longer than 10 minutes, they don’t have birdfeeders or plants or malfunctioning basement water pipes (the plumber arrives on Friday), they don’t bother with a yard or a garden.
Theirs is a simpler life than mine, they have more time on their hands, and often I’ve wondered whether I shouldn’t live like that, too.
But right now I have deep personal connections and loving friendships, keep on studying, keep on teaching, keep on organizing, keep on talking with animals and trees while on walks in the forest. So many books to read! So many sutras to study! So many hours of zazen for which to get up each morning (just signed up for the 108 consecutive days of meditation that Green River has been doing every winter over many years). And yes, so many Mundane Tasks of Life.
One evening I made myself a feta cheese omelet, toasted some bread, added a salad, poured myself a glass of wine because it was a weekend evening, and it hit me: This is life. Life is made up of tasks, the tasks of living.
What outside of these Mundane Tasks of Life is more important? The cutlery and napkins on the dining table ask for relationship just like my sister and brother. The laundry machine asks for attentive care as I load it, keeping it in balance so that it doesn’t pound on the floor, no different from the dogs or the post office lady at the door. These are fields of Buddha activity.
There’s a joke about a man who must get to an office meeting by a certain time only he can’t find parking. He goes round and round the building, round and round the block, no luck. He prays to God: “Please God, find me a parking place, otherwise I’m in trouble.” He goes around the block again and there, right in front of the door, a parking place has opened. He sidles into it and says: “Never mind, God, did it myself.”
Not quite sure why I bring this up now, except to point out that if something feels mundane, it’s because I’ve made it so. I’ve categorized things as important and not, spiritual and not, real work and not. In doing so, I’ve taken something far more mysterious, far more subtle, far more gorgeous and baffling out of the equation.
What I’m also discovering is that when I appreciate my Mundale Tasks of Life, I also appreciate others’ Mundane Tasks of Life. I visited with Jimena this evening, bringing rent money for a family whose father worked in construction, fell off the ladder and broke his leg. And food cards. Ordinarily I’d be in a hurry to leave when all this is done and folks have left, but this time we sat on her freezing porch sipping hot tea to keep warm and talking about omicron and testing in the local schools. Then we talked about her boys playing basketball.
“Oh my God, Eve,” she says, “my Mario played his first game on Monday. You should see all his fans crying his name: Mario! Mario! Here, let me show you.” Out comes one of three cell phones Jimena uses to show me a photo of four pretty girls holding up a sign with his name.
“You’re in trouble now,” I tell her.
“He’s still in Middle School,” she objects vehemently. “He knows that school is the only thing that matters.” Jimena has pounded that lesson into her boys since the day they were born. Nothing, but nothing, is supposed to distract them from school. She must be Jewish somewhere.
“Forget it,” I tell her. “These are beautiful girls; it’s just a matter of time.”
She grins proudly and sighs at the same time. “No, no, no, no,” she says. “Not now.”
“You mean, not ever, don’t you?”
We both laugh. Simple, ordinary life. Take the son to basketball practice, bring him home. Byron cooks dinner, which Jimena won’t eat till she’s done working at 9:00 pm. That’s when she’ll also remind Mario that only school matters, not girls, not even basketball practice.
We sip our tea, we laugh, I gather my pocketbook, soon I’ll leave. Life is so mundane we barely notice it.
Please help me support our immigrant community. I was told that the link supplied on Monday for immigrant families was dead; I hope it’s live this evening, someone’s working on tis. If not, you can use the link for blog donations and add the words: for food cards. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.