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  • Brooks Applegate

The Wonders of the Mundane

I used to own an old blue couch. It was a beat-up little fold-out where the main support sagged more and more every day under the stress only two twenty-something men could deliver. It never stood a chance. Usually, I would've been content with letting it get worse, with plans on replacing it. But then I saw a short documentary by Beau miles entitled A Mile an Hour. This documentary's premise is that Beau Miles, our documentarian, will run a marathon over 24 hours. In each hour, he will run a mile. Afterward, he will try and complete as many tasks as possible. These tasks include: building a table, picking fruit, baking bread, picking up trash, mowing the lawn, carving a paddle, chopping wood, and many others that go unmentioned. I've never been so entertained and motivated by a man doing chores. In fact, it inspired me to fix, at least temporarily, my poor, old couch. This focus on mundane tasks reminded me of Thich Nhat Hanh's book The Miracle of Mindfulness. In the book, there exists an interesting mantra.

Washing The Dishes

To Wash The Dishes

This mantra's context comes with a little anecdote about Thich Nhat Hanh's time at the "Tu Hieu Pagoda." As a novice, he would have to wash the plates of up to 100 hundred monks with nothing more than "ashes, coconut husks, and rice husks." Besides verging into the realm of cliché monk behavior, Thich Nhat Hahn explains that "while washing the dishes, one should only be washing the dishes." Especially in today's society, we tend to cram as much as we can in a single day. We toss about, rushing from task to task. It is a never-ending teeter-totter that extends beyond mere things into the realm of thought. Martin Heidegger might characterize this existence as a "thrownness." Our existence is never in the present moment. We shift between thoughts of the future and memories of the past. Thus, our consciousness, and in turn, existence, is pushed and pulled endlessly into both the past and future. These are things we all find ourselves doing. Do you ever think about the comfort of home while at work? Have you ever had a faux argument from your past in the shower? How about "zoning" out on the car ride home, thinking about what you need for dinner that night? Most people, myself included, do this without any conscious thought. And, I would argue, it is to our detriment. The reason why is that if we can never be truly present in the mundane aspects of our lives, how then can we expect to be present in moments of our lives that truly matter? It is in the mundane aspects of life that we can truly learn to be present. So the next time you find yourself washing the dishes, building a table, or repairing your old blue couch, stop and recognize and appreciate the wonder in the mundane.

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