I am folding laundry when a quote by William Morris comes wafting out of my subconscious, \”The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.\” Morris was ahead of his time. These days everybody, from mental health professionals to Buddhist monks, tells you that staying in the present is the key to health and happiness, peace and sanity. Unfortunately, I find staying in the present almost impossible to do.
Even as a child–and children are supposed to have a special talent for being \”in the now\”–I couldn\’t do it. \”Es lenta,\” (she\’s slow) the nuns at my school used to complain to my mother. But that was because it took me a while to come back from the edge of the universe to whatever I was supposed to be doing.
One example: I am marching single file with my class after recess when suddenly I perceive a strange silence around me. I return to earth to find my classmates gone and the yard deserted except for a single nun. Her hands hidden inside the sleeves of her long white habit, she is watching me and shaking her head: \”Benejam–siempre en la luna\” (always on the moon).
More than half a century has passed since that day, however, during which I have read a lot of books by Buddhist monks and psychiatrists and logged quite a few hours on my meditation cushion, so I should be able to be present and genuinely interested in folding the laundry, right here, right now.
I pick up one of my husband\’s undershirts. Feel the cotton, I tell myself. Feel its softness. Notice the Fruit of the Loom tag, and how it has curled. Look at the color of the shirt–it is slightly yellow. It is not terribly yellow, but it would be less yellow if I didn\’t do my laundry in cold water. But it\’s the least I can do, in this era when the environment is going to hell in a hand basket, to save a bit of energy. There really should be a law against washing clothes in hot water…And I\’m off to the moon again, or rather to the halls of Congress, lobbying for environmental legislation.
When I land back in the present, the underwear is in its drawer.
Next, I attempt to take a genuine interest in the socks, of which there are many. Some are brown, some black, others navy blue. Some are thick, some are thin–who cares?
Why am I having so much trouble with this?
It\’s not that I can never focus on what I\’m doing. There are a couple of things that force me to pay attention–one is writing, and the other is playing the recorder (and even during the latter sometimes my mind wanders in the easy passages). But with almost all the other \”details of daily life\”–taking Bisou for a walk, brushing my teeth, cleaning Telemann\’s litter box–I am, as that long-ago nun used to say, always on the moon.
Sorting socks, I fantasize what it would be like to be in the moment all day, every day, taking a genuine interest in whatever was in front of my nose. I would probably be a more relaxed person, a nicer one for sure. Maybe if I were more like William Morris I would be able to draw like him… How unfortunate that I\’ve been cursed with this drive to inhabit the moon.
My mind grinds on laboriously, ruminating on what-ifs and might-have-beens, until I realize with a jolt that time has passed and all the socks have been united with their mates, like the beasts in Noah\’s ark. Not only that, but I have written this entire blog post in my head.