I teach seven different classes. Six of them are in an “old school” classroom, meaning it has no technology. It has a green chalkboard with the music staff painted on it and good old-fashioned chalk and erasers. The other room is high-tech all the way – document camera, video monitoring of the instructor keyboard, projectors, speakers, individual communication with students through headphones and microphones, and so on. It is supposed to make teaching more efficient and thus “better.” This is so not true! All it does is stress me out because half the time, when I prepare a lecture that relies on said technology, it does not work. Someone has flipped a switch they shouldn’t have; or pulled a cable they shouldn’t have; or the district server is down; and the list goes on and on. Chalk never fails me! The only possible glitch in my no-tech classroom is a lack of chalk. But, since I have friends in high places who give me my own secret two-box stash of good old white chalk at the beginning of every semester, this is not an issue for me. I am always good to go!
Don’t get me wrong; I do like my personal technology. I rely on my phone and iPad as much as anyone else, but even they stress me out sometimes. If I’m honest, I have to admit that, in many ways, life without technology was so much simpler. Lately, the real “why” behind this thinking has been on my mind.
Yes, I spend too much time on Facebook. That is definitely time taken away from other things, though it is also time when I sit down in one place and come as close to slowing down as seems possible these days. In my head, that redeems my Facebook time a little. Slowing down, however, is more than sitting in one place, slowing down physically. We also need to slow down our minds.
The other night I was standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes. I have a perfectly good dishwasher, but I was washing dishes by hand just because. Because why? I wasn’t exactly sure until I realized, mid way through my dishwashing that I was experiencing a Zen moment. A moment of being fully in the present. I was completely in tune with the feeling of the warm water running over my hands, the fresh smell of the soap. I was able to fully appreciate the satisfaction of making the dishes clean. I was able to live into the pure sense of peace and calm in those moments because I was totally focused on what I was doing…just washing the dishes. Nothing more. Nothing less.
As a result of my dishwashing experience, I had an epiphany. The reason that so many of us are totally stressed out these days is because we no longer do these “menial” daily tasks and therefore no longer experience moments of being totally in the now, free from the burdens of always looking to what’s next. It takes longer to wash and dry dishes by hand than it does to place them in the dishwasher. We think that we need that “saved” time, but all we do is fill it up with more busy-ness. Think about laundry. It takes less than a minute to move a load of clothes from the washer to the dryer. What would our lives be like if we all returned to hanging clothes outside on a clothesline. Quiet time and fresh air. Stress-free moments. Time to de-clutter our own interior. Who doesn’t want these things? For some of us, unfortunately, this is not even an option. My city has an ordinance banning outdoor clotheslines.
Baking, sewing, farming, cooking…all things that have “down time” built into them are seen as time-consuming chores by many these days. I long for the day where all that is on my to-do list is to bake bread or knit a hat. Right now, such and existence sounds like pure bliss. Even vacuuming and dusting have the potential of offering that Zen-like experience I had while doing dishes. I crave that.
I know that I need more time spent in the now, time spent not worrying about all of the things I have to do in the future. Most days, I feel like a toddler who bounces from one activity to another never fully appreciating any of them. I get things done and then move on. On the surface, this looks great. I give the appearance of being productive and responsible. On the inside though, I feel like a robot. Do robots have feelings? I guess what I mean is that most of the time I am just cruising through life on auto-pilot. I know this is not a good plan for me. It’s not a good plan for anyone.
I wonder what life would be like if we all slowed down. If we all lived in the now. If we all appreciated the little things in life, which really are the big things.
I know one thing, if this were the case, I would have a much cleaner house and a much clearer mind. Perhaps it is worth the effort to make some changes in my life. Bring on those dirty dishes! I need that time at the kitchen sink to free my mind from its normal daily clutter long enough to create space for stillness, for calm, for peace, for enlightenment.