How to Practice Gratitude While Cooking, Doing Laundry, and Commuting
Mindfulness practices can make your most dreaded daily chores into meditations
With the limited time we have here on Earth, it really stinks that so much of it has to be spent doing boring, pointless chores like cleaning the bathroom and paying the bills.
But while these tasks may seem like the furthest possible thing from a restorative meditation session, mindfulness experts say they are actually ripe opportunities to be present in the moment, and enjoy life more. A simple shift in perspective can help you to find joy even in these mundane experiences. And isn’t joy so much better than dread?
Here are the tangible steps mindfulness and meditation experts use to get through their most cringe-worthy chores.
If you’re not someone who loves to cook — or just feel exhausted at the thought of assembling a meal at the end of a long day or in the run-up to a big holiday — try bringing gratitude to the practice, suggests Dr. Elisha Goldstein, founder of the Mindful Living Collective.
Pick up each ingredient and think about where it came from, and the work that went into getting it to your table. Practice appreciation and gratitude for each piece of food. Then, interact with your food with all of your senses, noting how it looks, feels, smells — and of course, tastes.
Sensei Koshin Paley Ellison, co-founder of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, suggests finding wonder in the miniscule moments, as you eat or prepare food.
He often works with people who are near death, and finds they can do this quite easily. He recalls one man’s reaction when he mentioned that he got takeout Chinese food one night. “Do they still have those boxes where you open up the top, and you take out the noodles, and it feels like magic?” the man asked. “I’m really going to miss that.”
Maybe we always knew that takeout noodles were magical. Taking the time to remember that can turn a rushed dinner into something much more joyful.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who wait until they completely run out of underwear to do laundry, and... well actually, is there really any other kind?
If this is the chore that you dread the most, Goldstein recommends first checking in with how your body is feeling.
“Most of us get into a place where we think it’s something we have to get through really quickly, so it can become kind of a stressful experience to do laundry,” he says. “Anytime there’s a stressful experience, it’s a real opportunity to retrain your brain to be able to drop into a space of presence, and be relaxed and focused.”
Ask yourself: Are you feeling tense? Notice where exactly your body is tensing up, so you can begin to soften it.
Next, truly look at your laundry. Be aware of the colors, and maybe even be aware of the gift of sight. Then, take a moment to experience the sensation of touch, which Goldstein says “turns down” the over-thinking part of our brains. Feel the textures of the clothes, smooth or rough. Notice the smells. Breathe in that fresh laundered scent like aromatherapy, allowing it to come in through your body.
And then, if it’s a good moment — if you’ve enjoyed any bit of it to any degree — name it. Acknowledge, even if it’s only for a few seconds, that doing laundry can be full of good moments like this.
Cleaning the Bathroom
Paley Ellison began his formal Zen training in 1987 and notes that on Buddhist retreats, cleaning the toilets is actually the highest form of Zen practice, that the most senior person takes on. It’s part of “samu,” physical work done with mindfulness as a spiritual practice.
“We have this idea that some activities are not worth our time, that we’re above them, but there is only a certain amount of time we get to do these things,” he says. “There’s something radical about slowing down and being with what our daily life really is.”
When the self-care coach and mindfulness teacher Ananda Leeke does her cleaning, she begins by taking between three and 10 deep, cleansing breaths: in through the nose and out through the mouth, making an audible sigh to release tension. This helps to set an intention around being kind and compassionate with yourself, she says.
“We as humans have a tendency to beat ourselves up for what we do not do, and what we have to do,” she explains. “So give yourself that loving kindness and compassion and simply say ‘you’re doing the best you can, where you are.’ Give yourself the space to be patient with yourself, and acknowledge if you don’t want to do the task.”
After you acknowledge that, she says you come into a place where you can see the task as an opportunity to slow down and think of what could make it a joyful experience. That can be: listening to your favorite podcast or radio station, lighting a candle or some incense, or finding small ways to celebrate when you’re done. Focus on small steps, taking one action at a time.
The average American spends over 200 hours commuting per year, so Holly Duckworth, a mindful leadership advisor for large corporations, makes use of that time by “retraining” her mind with the colors of the road. When she reaches a stop sign or red light, she thinks of the main root chakra (the energy centers of the body), which is red.
“I’m working to reprogram that trigger,” she says. “In addition to ‘wow, I have to stop,’ I remember the power of red. I look at the red sign, breathe in, and picture myself bringing in red energy — this powerful, joyful energy, reminding myself this is an opportunity the universe is presenting to me to be more powerful.”
She does the same with other traffic light colors: yellow, which energetically represents joy; and green, which is the heart chakra.
Of course, reprogramming your habits takes time, and Duckworth says that mindfulness is “a practice, not a perfect.”
“Have the grace to celebrate the days you’re getting it,” she says. “And to forgive yourself on the days that you’re not.”
After all, as much as people tend to focus on the big, exciting events of life, most of our actual time is spent in simple, everyday activities. Getting up, going to work, making dinner, connecting with loved ones, going to sleep. These daily tasks and chores that we tend to just “muddle through” are often where real life happens.