Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Zen Vacuuming

While visiting a gorgeous Japanese garden, I noticed a young man squatting in a patch of grass with his back toward me. I couldn’t see what he was doing so I asked a nearby employee, who explained to me that he was cutting the grass with a small pair of scissors. I walked around the path till I could see and sure enough, that’s what he was doing. Quiet, content, snipping away.

I thought about that guy last weekend when I was at the cabin. The cabin is nestled in the forest under huge evergreens that are always shedding their needles, which, no matter how often I vacuum, find their way inside and settle down on the rug, the floor, and the furniture.

When I noticed them scattered around one afternoon, I leaned down to pick up one or two, and then a few more. Before I knew it, instead of dragging the vacuum out, I was methodically moving around the room, calm and content, picking up pine needles. I wasn’t in a hurry, and it seemed like a pleasant way to spend some time. It was meditative in a way, and oddly satisfying. Very zen.

Why? I’m not sure. Maybe because I wasn’t trying to be efficient or to achieve any particular result. I was just picking up pine needles. I wasn’t irritated about them. On the contrary, it became more like a little game, a little hunt for hidden pine needles. It was fun. And then it was done. So simple.

Simple pleasures are the last healthy refuge in a complex world. ~Oscar Wilde

10 thoughts on “Zen Vacuuming”

  1. I’ve actually picked up (by hand) the many small twigs that rain down on my back lawn from the towering spruce tree and Douglas Firs in my neighbors’ and my yards. It has to be done over and over and over again, but it’s very focused and contemplative work. Yesterday, for the first time since I took charge of the yard work, I raked leaves for mulch. As I enjoyed the effort and late afternoon sun, my quiet was interrupted by the constant roar and sputter of a leaf-blower next door. The invasion of noise seemed to go on interminably and it was a challenge to safeguard my peace of mind. I feel sorry that that leaf-blowers have replaced the quietude of raking and gathering leaves. Oh the joys of simple, focused tasks. Thanks for writing about this. 🍁

    1. I know what you mean about raking versus leaf blowing. I have great childhood memories of raking leaves and composting them. Love your description of raking and also picking up the twigs. Thanks for commenting, Caroline.

  2. I have been amazed by how much the question, “what’s the most efficient way to do this“ is drilled into us. Your post, Galen, reminds us that there are just as important questions like “What is the most satisfying way to do this,” ot “ what is the most enjoyable way to do this,” or “what is the most contemplative way to do this.”

    Thank you for this simple lesson.

    1. You are so right, Brian. Just like Caroline was saying above about raking leaves versus leaf blowing. I’ve also found that washing dishes by hand (a necessity at the cabin without a dishwasher) is very satisfying. The hot soapy water and the feel of the dishes in my hands is something I don’t experience very often at home. Your questions will encourage me to be more aware of these things and perhaps to look for alternatives to the most efficient way to do things. Thanks for commenting.

    1. I was walking this morning and saw a father and son raking leaves together. They were talking and laughing, which would have been impossible with a leaf blower. Made me smile. Thanks for commenting, DJan.

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