I realized recently that many people live their lives like they wash their clothes. Some are careful about what colors go into which load, while others stuff it in and do not mind if their underwear is grey or their brights faded. Yet after the load determination stage, they all dump in the soap, turn on the machine, and walk away. Clothes in and clothes out. Dirt is washed away and that is all that counts.
I remember the first week I lead a work camp for teenagers in rural northern Mexico [back in the early 1980’s]. After three days of digging trenches for the first septic system and flush toilet for a small community school, the students in the work group approached me and the upcoming weekend fiestas with a big problem and an even more important question. Their clothes were dirty. “Now, what do we do?” they asked.
There were no washing machines, not even electricity. The amount of running water from the pump depended on whether or not the community generator had enough gas and working parts to get started that day. I handed each group member a bar of soap or a box of soap flakes and said, “Go find a bucket of water and start rubbing.” That first weekend was pretty difficult for them because they had not thought ahead about how hard it was going to be to get the dirt out of their clothes after all their digging. They went to the party wearing some very wrinkled and not very clean combinations of work pants and shirts.
Yet, if you have ever washed a week’s worth of clothes by hand, you learn the importance of thoughtfulness and mindfulness. I, too, became very attentive to how I treated my clothes and how hard it was going to be to wash them out after a hard day’s work. By the end of the week, I remembered that dirt didn’t just wash away - one had to work hard and carefully at it. Richard Bach wrote that you are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it, however. My own level of awareness of how I choose to live my life started to come into focus. Dirty laundry can be a good teacher.
When it comes to learning practical stress-management skills, the quality of our lives needs to be redirected to living from a place of passion. When you are washing a pair of well-used and very dirty blue jeans by hand, and you want them to come clean because you have been invited to dinner by the town mayor to discuss further work camps with the community, you have to rub hard and be consistent. The issue of what is important is very clear, namely, that clean clothes are a statement about caring for yourself and others. It is a sign of commitment to the process. The “dump in and walk away from the machine” style of living is not even part of your reality. In short, as with the process of cleaning clothes by hand, awareness is central to handling stress more effectively.
Along with living one’s life with passion and awareness, there is another important aspect to health and wellness. As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote: “A man or woman with outward courage dares to die; A man or woman with inward courage dares to live.”
Walking the pathway to health requires us to acknowledge, that all our experiences in life are catalysts for growth. Furthermore, what we accept, think about, and keep foremost in our minds will be the basis on which we live. If we choose to live with passion, we must have the inward courage to live fully in each moment. Stress has to be handled and handled at the moment it occurs. We can not put it off or forget about it.
In stress-management workshops, people regularly ask me where they should begin. I always remind them of the following words from the Bible: “As you sow, so you shall reap.” To have inward courage to live passionately means to become more attentive to the process of living. We do not need to start washing our clothes by hand, but we do need to become more awake to the process of what we are choosing to do and in what kind of spirit we are doing it.
On the same trip to Mexico, one day one of the light-hearted young men came up to me and asked if he and others could go down to the river to wash their hair and their clothes with bio-degradable soap. I conferred with the other leaders since they had been in Mexico more times than I, and we said “yes” to the request. With bags of dirty clothes, we all hiked to a nearby waterfall in the river. While some washed their clothes along the bank, others washed their hair with buckets, the light-hearted one had a most unique solution. He put on his dirtiest clothes and walked into the river with soap. First he washed his clothes while wearing them, and then his hair. He ended this very funny “wash cycle” by singing at the top of his lungs while standing underneath the water fall. His clothes came out cleaner than those of the other students, and the afternoon ended with all of us standing around wearing and washing our dirty clothes and then singing under the water fall. It had to be one of my most memorable and enjoyable clothes-washing experiences.
Living passionately can be fun and rewarding. Dealing with your stress by being aware of how you choose to live is a continual process of mindfulness. Being light of heart and playful in spirit is a good place to start.
From Listen to the Heart The Transformational Pathway to Health and Wellness by Geery Howe published back in 1991. For more information about the book, please click on the following link: http://www.chartyourpath.com/Listen-to-the-Heart.html