Music Moves In (written 2018)

02/08/2018 07:44

If I were asked to compose a list of things I love to do, none of the usual tasks involved in house cleaning would appear there. There may well be people out there who just naturally love to polish windows or vacuum carpets or (shudder) dust shelves, but I'm not one of them. Still, years ago when I took these tasks on differently, as part of my mindfulness practice, I began to find a deep satisfaction in doing them that serves me well. Moments spent in mindfulness are always moments that have some measure of joy laced through. Even a sad moment, lived mindfully, is vibrant with attention and vibrates a little with energy that is food for the heart. It is not a moment thrown away. And that, for years, was the problem I had with household tasks...I treated them as throw away moments, something to rush through to get to something else. What brings this to mind now? The congruence of two experiences.


I choose to live most of my life without a soundtrack. That is, I don't often listen to music in my vehicle or my office or my home in general, unless someone else has turned on the tunes. When I do listen to music, it is usually as an activity in itself: sitting down to listen to a specific Leonard Cohen album; playing a favorite CD by a musician friend who lives on another continent and, in this way, spending time with her; choosing something gentle to listen to as I relax, snuggled with our dog on the carpet or slouched back in my favorite chair. Like watching a movie or reading a book, it's a singular activity. Except perhaps for the ever-present cup of tea I like in the evening.


But a few weeks back when the house was empty, which it rarely is, and I began the weekly scouring of kitchen and bathrooms, I suddenly had the wish to hear a set of lovely Eve Decker songs. This album is a cycle of 10 songs that each highlights one of the 10 Paramis or virtues the Buddha suggested for cultivation. Allowing the unusual impulse its head, I dug out the CD and plugged it in...old school technology. Here's what I found: In moments tears were running down my cheeks and dripping into the sink I was scrubbing. A little later I was frozen in my tracks on the carpet, passing through between rooms, caught by lyrics that lifted my heart and hollowed out my belly simultaneously with a stark yearning.


I still got the work done. And the tears, well I think they were cathartic this time. Bodily awareness made clear once again how much I yearn for patience and equanimity and wisdom, how painful it can be to trip over myself in the development of healthy determination. Life hurts enough lately that suffering is clear, and I know that a step to a different perspective makes living with joy and peace, even in the midst of suffering, possible. But sometimes that step feels impossible. It was the sweet promises in the songs that broke open my heart. The reminder of moments when I've touched the kind of patience and equanimity, wisdom and determination that are possible and integral to the path. But the peace of mindful work was lost that day.


That's what came to mind with the second experience which was seeing a poster on Face Book of someone washing windows without and then with music. Dragging sullenly through the task as opposed to moving with energy. This triggered a memory. My husband used to vacuum to Queen or The Who in the wee hours of the morning when we were first together and still childless. The music rocked our little rented home, some distance from any close neighbors, in the hamlet of Nacmine, and blotted out the mundane nature of his work. He danced his way through to the next thing on the list.


I'm back to choosing silence. I'll listen to Eve again. Her songs move me, as music is meant to do. But I don't want to treat them as background, like the radio tunes in the supermarket. I want to give them and my bodily responses a lot of attention. And I want to give attention to my household tasks as well. Distracted sink scrubbing is not immediately and obviously dangerous, like distracted driving, perhaps, but it feels like a disservice to my intention to live mindfully.