I love raking leaves. I look forward to it as soon as September begins and the leaves begin to turn colour. I love raking leaves because, when I do, my busy mind slips away and I experience only a clear awareness of the action of raking leaves. Move the rake back, then towards me, pulling the brilliant yellow and red leaves into a heap. Then move down a step, and repeat. The leaves rustle as I walk on them, and they smell like autumn and mud and decay and rain. It’s one of my favourite smells in the world. I don’t look up to see how much I have raked or how far I still need to go, but I just keep moving, focusing on each individual motion at a time, back and forth, switching directions now and then to exercise both sides of my body equally. I don’t think about anything in particular, but I don’t make an effort to not think either. It’s just raking. Leaves. Sun. Grass. Clouds. Sky. Air. That’s all.
You could call it a moving meditation if you want to. But you don’t have to. What is important is that raking leaves – like many other everyday activities, such as washing dishes by hand, sweeping, dusting, or weeding – can become an opportunity to cultivate joy and mindfulness in our lives. Many of these activities are viewed as chores, unpleasant and boring tasks that need to be finished quickly with as little effort as possible. Hence the invention of dishwashers, leafblowers, and countless other gadgets that purport to make our lives better by cutting down on the amount of time we need to spend on chores so that we can have more time to do “fun” activities.
And while of course I enjoy having fun, it is honestly not as important to me as cultivating an everyday life of contentment and even joy. Even if I am engaged in a task – like raking leaves – that may seem boring and “not fun” to many, I can still feel content and satisfied. I can enjoy the moment, rather than being bored and impatient to be finished so that I can move on something that is more “fun.”
And – despite all those useful gadgets I mentioned earlier – most of us cannot avoid doing at least some chores. If we need to do them, then surely it is better to find what enjoyment we can in them and make our day just that little bit better.
If you are doing a chore, slow down and focus on the present moment. Don’t think about all the things you would rather be doing. Try to let go of any worries about the future. Just focus on your movements and the sensations around you – the wind if you are outside, the sound of birds singing or leaves rustling, the feel of the water if you are washing dishes. Don’t focus on the entire task ahead of you, which may feel overwhelming, just focus on each individual action. Wash one dish at a time, move the vacuum one stroke over the carpet at a time. Let the practice and routine of doing chores become a still point in the midst of a life that may otherwise be busy and stressful. You may also use this time to feel gratitude for the fact that you have a home to clean, that you have dishes to wash, that you have a yard with trees whose leaves you need to rake.
While doing chores may never be exactly “fun”, with practice it can become part of a contented life. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go rake some leaves.