If you’re a typical, modern human being with too much to do and not enough time to do it all, you probably spend a considerable amount of time just thinking about what you have to do before you actually do it. Let’s first look at the thinking half of this process. You already know how obsessive thinking can disrupt your peace of mind by projecting you into a future that hasn’t yet arrived. Anxiety builds up as you worry about all that you have to do and when you might do it. Because it’s impossible to do all those things at once, and because you cannot accomplish anything just by thinking about it, you begin to feel overwhelmed before you even begin.
As soon as you recognize that your mind has moved forward in time, bring yourself gently back to the present by taking a few deep breaths and noticing where you are. What color is the wall or sky in front of you? Who are you with? What are they wearing? Even if you are surrounded by strangers, observe their different forms of dress. Then refocus on whatever it is you were doing and know that the chores ahead of you will get done when you get to them. If your mind continues to project ahead into thinking about all you have to do, and you can’t concentrate on the present moment, take out your notebook and write a daily task list, a weekly task list, a monthly task list, and a sometime-in-the-future task list. If you have time, prioritize each list. Then put the notebook away and return to what you were doing.
Now let’s look at the doing side of this process. When you get to the doing of the first chore on your list later that day, or the next, bring your full attention to it. If it’s the laundry, concentrate completely on separating the colors from the whites, on loading the machine, on setting the dial, on hanging up or folding each article of clothing. Bring to this chore a feeling of gratitude for the fact that you have clothes to wash and a machine to wash them in. Be grateful for the running water and electricity that make this chore possible and quite simple. Involve yourself one hundred percent in this activity. If you notice that you are thinking ahead to the completion of the task, pull yourself gently back to whatever your hands are doing in this moment and imagine what you would be feeling if you were doing it for the very first time.
Open your heart to the miracle of your hands and feet and legs and whatever else you are utilizing to accomplish this chore, and be grateful for your ability to complete this task.
Whether it is washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, raking the yard, or building a tree house, bring your complete and focused attention to the doing of it. Each time your mind wanders, gently coax it back. When you are engaged in doing a chore that has been particularly distasteful to you in the past, use the opportunity to learn more about yourself. Bring yourself back to the first time you did this chore or to the time when it turned sour for you. Forgive whomever or whatever it was that you believe responsible for your present attitude (even, or most especially, if it’s you), and remove all the emotional baggage from the current-day task at hand. And then do it as if for the first time and shift your negative attitude into a positive one.
Since it’s not always easy to go directly to a positive outlook, use the practice of mindfulness to take you there—be utterly and completely in the present moment, in the doing of the task at hand. When cleaning, just clean; when cooking, just cook; when raking, just rake. This practice will encourage positive thinking and prepare you for the ultimate task of just being.
Do the chore to do the chore, nothing more. And in the doing of it, just be.