Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ironing: Present but not Perfect

The season of ironing has returned. The school year has begun, the temperatures have dropped slightly and it is time for me to catch up with the ironing pile of my husband's shirts that has waited through the summer, growing slowly. He has always worn cotton shirts, and somehow over the past 25-30 years, I've taken on the task of keeping them somewhat free of wrinkles.

It was with some surprise that having started ironing the back of the fifth shirt, I could not remember if I had completely ironed the back of the previous shirt. Stunned for a moment, I stood, wracking my brain and then I actually went over and looked at it.  I had indeed ironed it. Where the heck was I when that happened that I couldn't remember doing it? Was I on automatic pilot?

No, not on automatic, but more present in the moment than in recording the results and committing my actions to memory. As I am ironing, I am acutely aware of the texture of the fabric under my hand and the weight of the iron, feeling the heat of the steam rising, the breeze from the window. My eyes, hands and mind are synchronized with my breath and my attention is fully on what I am doing. Or so I thought. In fact, my heart is also holding the person for whom I am smoothing out the wrinkles, in some ways encircling the shoulders upon which this placate will rest, envisioning the arms and hands that will emerge from this sleeve, once it is rolled up, as it always is when my husband is in action.

So how can it be that I am so present, yet I've finished one shirt and begun another without memory and certainty?  Perhaps it is not the goal of my action to remember ironing the back of each shirt. The goal of my action is to act in the moment, transmitting my love for my husband, and this is what engages me. My physical attention is fully in the present moment, observing the weave of the fabric beneath my hand and the implications of the back pleat for my task. Will the shirt be perfectly ironed because of my full attention? Perhaps not, especially since there is quite a pile and I have evolved a speedy treatment! If I wanted perfectly ironed shirts, I would ask my husband to do it as he is the one who attachs to the specificity of physical results. This is part of what makes his woodwork and sculpture so beautifully crafted. Yet even without attachment to perfection, the task is accomplished, and my goal satisfied.

In the moment of ironing, I am accomplishing a repetitive quotidien task, acting out of love, savoring textures and sensations of being and doing, and relaxing my grip on perfection and judgment.  For me this is yoga off the mat, and I am grateful that my attention was called into question by my thinking mind so that I could see my action for what it truly is. How many times in a seated meditation does the mind ask, "what are you doing? where are you?" and answers itself, "I've taken my seat and I am meditating."  This is harder to count than even counting the breath itself!

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