Galen Pearl

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

12 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 can see why this simple task could actually be soothing to the mind and spirit. When we are content with the small steps, we never need to worry about the big ones.
    Blessings, Galen!

    1. Yes, it was surprisingly enjoyable. Keeps things simple, and as you say, takes the attention away from big worries. Thanks for your comment, Martha.

  3. Sometimes getting a task done in a hurry isn’t the most important thing. I enjoyed this post. Thanks, Galen!

  4. 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.

  5. During one of my first visits to my husband’s family home in Mexico, I observed a group of his sisters sitting on the floor preparing raw carrots to be cut and added to a soup. It was a painful sight for me. Their knives were dull, and they scraped the sides of the carrots slowly and unevenly – not swiftly and methodically. During my next visit, I took them a high quality very sharp German knife, a high qulaity vegetable peeler, and a sturdy cutting board. I even showed them how I prepared carrots: Cut ends. Peel. Peel. Peel. Chop. Chop. Chop. Seconds later? Ready for the next carrot. They watched attentively, but on all my subsequent visits, I never saw those presents again. I did, however, continue to see them sitting together on the floor while slowly prepping food, talking, laughing and relaxing. Before long, I was on the floor with them, without my efficient tools but with a new sense of belonging – both to the sisterhood and to the environment.

    1. That is a great story Diedre! What a perfect example. Makes you wonder about all the “modern conveniences” we have to make our tasks go more quickly and efficiently. Do they really improve our quality of life? Leaf blowers — enough said! Glad to hear you are feeling better.

Comments are closed.