Sometimes life can feel like an endless round of things we have to do. We wake up in the morning reviewing the things we have to do that day, including everything from an important doctor’s appointment to remembering to balance our checkbook or return a fairly unimportant but still necessary phone call. In this state of mind, life feels like a recurring loop, a collection of things to do that can seem tedious and uninspired. Life in in the modern world is complicated. So much to do and keep track of!
When we look at this situation deeply, we see that, while it may be the case that we have a lot to do, what really makes it unpleasant is our attitude toward it. There’s a feeling that life itself is postponed until we get these annoying tasks done. After that, maybe, we will feel free to enjoy our lives.
Unfortunately, we seldom reach a state where everything is completely done and accomplished and we can just relax.
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh recommends we learn to substitute thoughts like “now I have to make the bed” with the thought, “enjoying making the bed.” Sometimes, however, this may be too big a leap for us to make. Instead, we can try to just remind ourselves to relax and calm down in the doing itself. “Making the bed, I breathe in and out, calming body and mind.” We practice brining out attention more to the task at hand, less to the long list waiting for us to get to.
The ultimate place of rest is enlightenment. That is why the Buddha said that, in his case, what needed to be done and accomplished had been done and accomplished. While he still had his daily round, whatever it may have been, at another level he had nothing left to do.
We don’t need to be a perfectly enlightened being to taste a bit of enlightenment. “Making the bed, calming, smiling” already gives us a sense of this. In this way, we have enlightenment about the experience of making the bed. We can have peace right in the experience of making the bed, without postponing it till everything is done.