The therapeutic effect of cleaning and gardening

Yesterday in the late afternoon I spent about 2 hours pulling out weeds in the my garden. The weather was cloudy, hence it was not hot and the occasional wind is soothing.

I ended up with 3 solid huge black bags of weeds that I pulled out with my own hands.

Cleaning and pulling out weeds have not always been my thing. When I was young, I helped out in the washing, sweeping and moping but we just did the bare necessities.

As I got into corporate work, I am often too mentally exhausted from work each day to want to be cleaning. But when my mother got unwell, the task of the daily sweeping and moping fell on my hands, which I sometimes really disliked doing.

However a lot of my attitude in relation to cleaning changed when I spent almost a year in Thailand. Exactly 10 years ago I quit my first corporate job to ‘take a break’ and somehow ended up going and staying in Thailand (I renewed my visa through border runs and then came back to do my visa and go again).

I stayed at few a few places including Buddhist monasteries where life is simple. After meal, we quietly clean the kitchen and dining area. In the afternoon we would then sweep the dry leaves (each day, a lot of leaves dropped from the numerous trees growing in the area).

Initially, I was not used to the slow down in pace…. and I asked myself, what am I doing there in the middle of nowhere sweeping dry leaves, which the next day would accumulate again. I felt I did not come here to sweep leaves or go through a hard education to leave it behind and do something unproductive as sweeping dry leaves. And why would everyone want to sweep the dry leaves under the tree just to have the wind blow them all over and then coupled with the falling leaves to have more leaves to sweep!

My teacher then advised that sweeping and doing can help to calm down our monkey mind that refused to settle…. jumping from one thought to another and one memory to another.

True enough, after a while…. the cleaning and sweeping become well…. strangely therapeutic. You work and sweat and become physically tired and the mind settles down more easily. The active mind is not longer darting from one preoccupation to another.

After I came back, my attitude slowly change with regards to cleaning. I am not longer that upset when after a tired day’s back at work, I still had to sweep and mop the floor. When we get into the rhythmic action of cleaning, our mind is able to calm and you can learn how to be more mindful.

Many people think that cleaning is reserved for someone ‘less successful’ and a ‘low earning cleaner’ job. They are anxious to outsource the job to the maid or part time cleaners to help do the dirty work for them.

If you are in a very stressful and demanding job, your mind and heart may already have no strength to go through another tasks that does not bring joy. I truly understand because I’ve been there. If you find that cleaning truly stresses you out and takes away any little happiness and time to relax in the weekend, then by all means, outsource it.

But if you are in a financial situation where you have to do those tasks yourself, my appeal is that you learn to do it less resentment. Immense in the repetitive action of cleaning, or gardening or whatever physical tasks that is at hand.

At first, the tasks may be overwhelming, ie, you have a huge dirty and untidy area or a huge patch of weeds. I have learned to just start and to break into small chunks…. do not put pressure on yourself. The next thing you know, you may have cover quite a lot.

I rather be doing household tasks that to immense myself in watching TV, Youtube or Facebook videos because I find watching TV messes with our minds, affect our emotional states and creates more discontent in our hearts. Binge watching also make my mind heavy and tired and I would go around feeling like a zombie.

However, most people I know  are immersed on their phones at literally most of their waking hours (except when working or driving). If we ask ourselves, it is only momentarily excitement but we would keep looking for more exciting videos and stimulants.

The mental state created by being hooked on our smartphones is really no good and detrimental…. and eventually the discontent at the disparity between our own ‘uneventful’ lives and the colourful ones of the actors in our favourite movies/dramas/sitcoms would lead to unhappiness, excessive spending (to live out the lifestyle) and depression. I know because I was once addicted to binge watching drama series.

Yesterday while I pulled weeds I try to focus my mind on a meditation theme. Without the past resentment, it has a calming effect, not to mention that I gotten a good physical workout. At the end of the 2 hours as I see the 3 huge black bags of weeds and the walking area of my garden which is cleared of tall weeds….. there is a feeling of accomplishment.


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