Happy long weekend! The natural theme to this weekend might be the meaning and symbolism of Easter; what is being rebirthed, what are we inviting in, what is asking to be given life to, or to grow?
But this year I’m finding no fire with these questions. Instead, the question seems to be how do we maintain and sustain, as opposed to grow and transcend, our lives, our relationships, homes, work, planet, and our own lifeforce? But these questions, this contemplation, doesn’t always land, because although sustainable living as a topic has become popular, the day-to-day actions of a sustainable life are repetitive and ordinary. We don’t usually think of cooking, cleaning, tending the garden, resting, daydreaming and just sitting doing nothing as sacred and important. I think of maintaining and sustaining as both: the ordinary, repetitive tasks of our lives that need to be done and the ability to rest and ultimately do nothing.
Historically, there has been a lack of importance placed on maintenance and sustainability. The people, usually women, and work, that sustains us and maintains us, has often been ignored or even ridiculed. It seems obvious but the work of sustaining and maintaining our lives and our planet is all of ours. But in the past, there were the people who went to school, to work, to war, and travelled and then there were the ones who stayed home and *kept the home fires burning
I think about my mother and her battle with being a stay at home mom. This is more complex and personal then I would go into here except to say that although she doesn’t regret her choice, was it choice? And how must it have been to be doing it at a time where it was both expected of you but not valued by society? But in tending to the tasks of our lives, she is also the glue that holds the family together. She continuously keeps the home fire burning. She maintains a constant presence and unwavering commitment to being there. She keeps relationships going. She is the home fire. She is the place that many of us, not just her children, but grandchildren, cousins and friends can return to. She didn’t work outside of the home and she never loved housecleaning or cooking, although the house is always clean and there is always food, but she kept and continues to keep a place that one can return to, both in an actual place, but more importantly where the heart can rest and be seen.
Without food on the table, without nutrients to nourish us, without clothes to warm us, without the home fire burning, there is no health or energy in which to grow. There is no growth without sustainability. Maintaining and sustaining are a crucial and sacred part of growth and transformation and we are being called daily to practice.
It’s obvious that if we valued maintenance and sustainability the world would not be in the state it is in, climate change would not be an issue. Our unstoppable need for growth, the disregard for the ordinary, repetitive parts of living, and our inability to do nothing, has brought us here. If we can’t rest, slow down, take a breath, sustain and maintain, then destruction, burnout, and breakdown is inevitable.
Much of our anxiety comes from an inability to do nothing, many of us don't know how and a there is a reluctance to do what is repetitive. Not because it’s impossible, but because we haven’t built the muscle in which to do it. We don’t create a space to practice it because we haven’t placed any importance on it, but if we did, our hearts and our psyches would not be in the state they are in. The task of maintaining and sustaining is the ability to be in relationship with the parts of our life that nurture and sustain us with some presence and reverence. When you cook dinner, can you take in that you nourishing yourself or others? When you are grocery shopping, or doing laundry, or paying the bills, or whatever you do that is not considered valuable but is necessary, can you see it as sacred activism and a step towards letting our ordinary lives be worthy? Can I?
In the book “How to do Nothing” Jenny Odell points out that the irony is, to do nothing we very much have to direct our attention towards something, and the invitation here is to direct our attention with some reverence to the ordinary things we do. The day-to-day chores, the many things that we do because we have to. That is the crux. The sticky, difficult piece. We have to. We have to breathe, we have to eat, we have to move, we have to have quiet, we have to rest. If we have to have something, it’s important. If we have to do something, it matters. I’m not special in my relationship to the ordinary tasks that sustain me, I do it because I have to. But because I have to, is it not then essential? If it’s essential is it not in someway important or even sacred? My mind here goes to essential workers. People who continue to show up to work often because they have no choice, they need to put food on their table. The work they do is considered essential in the upkeep of our own lives. Yet, many of the jobs that are now considered essential, historically have not been respected.
Both the ordinary tasks of our lives and the space in which we do nothing, where our attention is not on growth or the next best thing, we are sustaining and maintaining. As we tend to the daily tasks of our lives, we keep a fire lit for our souls to return to. Our soul and our hearts need rest. We need to literally breathe and smell the flowers. It is the maintenance and the sustenance that is giving us the energy to grow. This is not women's work but humanity's. This isn't against productivity, expansion and growth but rather in relationship with it. It is also a deeper philosophical practice in which I think about two things in which I can not do prefectly: How can I continue to sustain and grow with the least amount of harm? How do I intentionally show up in moments without needing to accomplish a goal, where I can truly just be in the experience? In other words how to direct my attention to something in order to do nothing? For example bird watching, looking out the window, walking without a destination.
For now, I will end this post and go do some of the household tasks that are always waiting for me and after that I hope to do nothing. I continue the maintenance of a home for the humans and animals that exist and breathe in it now, but also for future gatherings, and I rest to be in rhythm in with the world and the deeper nature of my soul. In other words, I do my best to keep the home fires burning while I enter out and be in connection with the world.
If you’d like to practice some of these ideas in virtual community please check out my new course New Course Offering (lifeisbeautifulsomatictherapy.com)