My preschool son (hereafter referred to as “Smalls”) is typical of preschool boys – running a million miles an hour, always getting into something, talking a blue streak. It’s simultaneously hilarious and utterly exhausting. Smalls operates at warp speed pretty much all of his waking hours, except…
when he cleans out the dirt between his toes each night.
It’s not a long process – maybe 20 or 30 seconds at most – but it’s a ritual for him, and one he takes the time to do slowly, carefully, with real presence.
I envy him those 20 or 30 seconds.
I wish that I could be fully present. I wish that I could silence the ten thousand conversations bouncing around in my head. I know that I’m getting better at silencing the chatter, especially the negative chatter, but I have serious doubts that I’ll ever get rid of it entirely. But I’d like to try.
I think one place to start is to think of things that seem to fill me up when I do them. I really struggle to think of these things – how do I possibly have time to note things that fill me up, when I’m busy just trying to stay one step ahead of my depression? How do I have time to even do things that fill me up, when I’m working through my issues in therapy, or assessing my mental health on a thrice-daily basis to figure out whether I’m finally on the right track? Oh, yeah, and parenting three kids, and working on a healthy marriage, and trying to develop emotionally healthy habits for the first time in my life?
I’m beginning to learn about self-care – such a novel concept after 40-some years of slogging through the world! And self-care is about, well, taking care of yourself. Doing things that make you feel good – not the addictive, self-destructive kinds of things, but the things that feed your soul or your inner self or whatever term you like best. So I’m trying to pay attention.
It turns out that I like cleaning my oversized stainless steel saute pan. I like running the warm water over the pan and watching the crud float away. I like taking the stainless cleaning powder and gently rubbing away the more aggressive crud. I like rinsing the pan and looking at it just so under the light to see if I need to clean it more. I like to watch how the water sheets off the pan when it’s fully clean. And I like the memories of the meal I cooked and the people for whom I cooked.
I know this hardly seems like the basis for a Zen practice, and I’m not saying that it is…but it’s a start. When I’m cleaning the pan, that’s really the only thing I want to be doing in that instant. Does it seem trivial? Yeah, without a doubt. But I feel content when I’m doing it. Technically, it probably doesn’t count as self-care, but it does count as me really being in tune with something.
And that’s what I see in Smalls when he cleans between his toes each night.
I’m still convinced that Smalls achieves more Zen with his ten little toes than I ever will. But I’m learning to find my own things that help me to slow down, calm some of the inner chaos, and really BE.