Want to meditate? Try scrubbing a skillet.

The other night I was meditating while scrubbing a frying pan. 

Now that I have your attention. . . .

But I’m not kidding. The other night I was at my kitchen sink steadily scrubbing the brown spots off the bottom of a frying pan. When I finished, I realized that for a good five minutes, I had focused on nothing except the methodical action of scrubbing and rinsing, scrubbing and rinsing.  I enjoyed the sensation of the warm water flowing over my hand, and I delighted in watching the bottom of the pot turn silver again. (How long since that skillet has been silver?) My mind, which had been racing when I began cleaning the supper dishes, was calmer. My breathing was slower and deeper. I suddenly understood that while scouring the pot, I had fallen into a meditative state. 

Before you call me Betty Crocker (and I must confess that I learned my way around the kitchen when I was a middle schooler enrolled in the 4-H cooking project and that in high school I envisioned myself as something of a Martha Stewart--long before any of us knew who Martha Stewart was), let me just say that I don’t spend a lot of time scrubbing my pots these days.  I’ve had a consuming career, and while I’ve remained interested in thing domestic, I haven’t given them very much time. I don’t usually scrub my pots very carefully—which is why there was so much brown stuff to scrub off that skillet.

But I am trying to live more mindfully.  Mindfulness consists of focusing your awareness on the internal and external experiences of the present moment rather than letting your mind race ahead to twelve additional things on your “to do” list. A mindfulness practice relieves stress and promotes a sense of well-being. Research has consistently shown that mindfulness practices have positive health benefits.

Most people associate mindfulness with a formal meditation practice, but I confess that I still haven’t managed to make meditation part of my regular routine. But more and more often these days, I find my most mindful moments come in completing the most mundane tasks.  Like last weekend, while I was pulling the overgrown periwinkle vine out of my flower beds. For that hour, I wasn’t thinking about much of anything except pulling the invasive plant without ripping up my treasured perennials.  Or on a hike in a South Carolina land preserve with my husband, when I didn’t give my attention to anything except catching my breath after each climb and placing my feet between the roots and rocks that marked the trail.  Working a jigsaw puzzle with some girlfriends felt meditative as I focused on nothing except finding the elusive piece with the right number of “innies” and “outies” to finish the lake scene.

A few weeks ago, one girlfriend gave me an assortment of colored pencils and markers and pastels for my birthday, and another chose a small coloring book full of “ten minute” pictures of “joy.” Sitting on my back porch, listening to the birds sing and selecting the right shade of pastel for the joyful bird picture in front of me is one of the most mindful things I’ve done in a long time.

My point is that incorporating some mindfulness into your daily life doesn’t have to be a big, fat, hairy, scary deal. You don’t have to sit straight-backed on a cushion with a sitar sound track playing in the background while you chant “om.”  Sometimes mindfulness just involves taking a few minutes to bring your full attention to the task at hand—scrubbing a pot or coloring a picture or pulling some weeds.

Do you have a favorite mindfulness practice?