I like to sweep. Sweeping soothes me. I feel a deep satisfaction and peace while I perform this simple task every morning. In my pajamas, coffee nearby, I sweep the grubby floor. The cats reluctantly move from their warm patch to a broom-free area as I make my way around the kitchen. Part of the charm of sweeping is its dailiness; I like the steadiness of this particular ordinary routine. There are other routines like washing dishes, grocery shopping, or—worst of all—filling the gas tank, that I actively dislike. But sweeping the floor—watching all of yesterday’s bits and pieces come together in the dustpan and then be thrown away—is different. It is a fresh start. While sweeping every morning I think about what I might do with the rest of the day and what was left undone from the day before. I plan; I daydream; eventually I let my mind go blank. Another way of thinking about sweeping is that it’s a way to cultivate mindfulness.
“Mindfulness” is everywhere—magazines, books, and television talk shows. Though the concept is more than 2,000 years old, you’d think it was invented yesterday. The meditation practice of mindfulness is based on Buddhist anapanasati: the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment. As in Buddhism, the daily rituals of most religions are intended to bring believers back to what is central in their lives. In Thailand, Buddhist monks begin their days by sweeping the grounds of their monasteries. In this mundane daily task, they learn to appreciate the ordinary in life.
I admire the monks from afar but I can’t say I have a sense of kinship. Sweeping soothes me, but it isn’t a religious experience. I haven’t had any epiphanies while sweeping the floor. However, it takes practice to be a good sweeper, to take the time to get in all the corners and under tables. The more I practice, the better I get. And as for mindfulness, I cultivate it by doing what I do: I sweep.