The Zen of Folding Laundry and Other Thoughts on Happiness

Zen

I hate folding laundry. So, when I recently had to fold some laundry, I was feeling impatient and irritated. The laundry wasn’t going to fold itself, and I was running out of clothes. Despite my internal protests, it would have to get done. I figured it would only take a few minutes and then I could get back to the more enjoyable parts of my day.

Then it hit me. I was resisting folding the laundry. The whole time I was rolling socks and sorting shirts my mind was elsewhere. Instead of simply accepting that the laundry needed to be done and experiencing that, I was resisting it.

Then I began to wonder. How many other things in life am I resisting instead of accepting and experiencing them?

Resistance is Futile

What do I mean by resistance? I don’t like a lot of spiritual authors because they are unable to break down words into a core concept. Instead they resort to fancy wordplay to dance around an idea that they can’t communicate. I’d like to try to avoid that error here.

Resistance means denying where you are right now. Struggle and challenge to meet a higher goal is an important and honorable part of life. But I’m not talking about resistance against challenges but deceiving yourself at what is happening right now.

Let’s say you want to travel to Paris. You go to book a ticket online. You enter in Paris as the destination, but when it asks for the location of departure, you freeze. You can’t admit to yourself you are where you are. Instead of simply accepting your current location and entering it, you resist.

It sounds silly to think of resisting a physical location. But what about your life situation? I think a lot of people are caught between resisting their current location and seeking out a new one.

A Battle of Paradigms: Be Happy VS Be Successful

Why does this happen? Why should we resist what is, especially when it impairs our ability to go forward? I think the answer lies in a clash between the obligations to be happy and be successful.

Be Happy. To most, depression is a sign of weakness. Same goes for other negative emotions. Being frustrated, sad or angry are signs you can’t properly deal with the world. Although this isn’t the truth, it is a pervasive belief. Therefore people do their best to hide and avoid negative feelings. Both out of a desire to be happy and because they feel it would be shameful not to.

Be Successful. The conflicting paradigm is that you should be successful. This means you shouldn’t just have emotional success in maintaining happiness but you should have wealth, health and status.

These two ideas create resistance. Be happy causes resistance of emotions and be successful causes resistance of circumstance. This wouldn’t be such a large problem if the two didn’t overlap.

The clash occurs when evaluating the success in your life it isn’t enough. This causes feelings of unhappiness, creating resistance with the expectation to be happy. The other clash occurs when you have success but you feel unhappy thoughts. This can cause you to see your success as diminished, creating more resistance.

No matter where you go there is resistance. Denying the truth of your feelings and circumstances.

How to Accept

The opposite of resistance is acceptance. This is complete honesty with yourself about how you feel, what you are doing and where you are in life. It doesn’t mean you need to like it, just that you fully accept that it is true.

  • Resisting Activity – Here is the Zen of folding laundry. Chores can be a source of resistence if you are actively trying to deny that you are doing them. Acceptance here means admitting to yourself that, right now, you are folding laundry and not doing anything else.
  • Resisting Circumstances – Like everyone, I’ve had periods of loneliness where I’m in relative isolation. When this happens, I’ve learned to completely accept my temporary solitude, even though I dislike it.
  • Resisting Emotion – If you feel depressed, admit that to yourself. Accept that you are depressed right now. Accept your emotions as if they were the color of your shirt rather than a symbol of your character. Not something to resist or feel ashamed of but just a fact.

Acceptance Isn’t Giving Up

In fact it is often the complete opposite. Acceptance is like our trip to Paris, knowing our location of departure. Without knowing where you are now, you can’t possibly reach your destination.

Giving up means taking acceptance (“this is what is, right now.”) and moving it a step further (“this is what will be forever.”) You can accept current depression with both the optimism to see a happier future and the willingness to work towards it. You can accept a life you dislike and set goals to improve it.

Resistance’s Mild Deception

Most failures to accept the current situation aren’t complete lies. They aren’t entire frauds, completely disregarding the truth. Instead they are distractions and oversights. Mild deceptions that don’t remove the truth but resist it nonetheless, pushing it into an area of slight disbelief.

Lost Socks and Folded Laundry

As I finished folding my laundry, I got a chance to reflect on my current position. To move out of my head for a few seconds. To accept everything around me, without bias or judgment. Then I just noticed how I felt without censoring or distortion. Some of it made me happy, some didn’t. I accepted that too.

With the clothes in the drawers I can hear the birds outside. They make me smile and give me the strange feeling that I hadn’t heard them before.


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