Day 9 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.
For many years, I was a “clean the kitchen counters in the morning” girl. I always felt that I ought to clean them at night, but that habit eluded me. So I let it go. Then, I happened to do it one evening and the next day as I wandered out for morning tea, the peacefulness of the kitchen made me smile and sigh deeply.
Rather than share photos of a clean counter, the quiet interiors of Dutch painter, Carl Vilhelm Halsoe (1863-1935), capture the feeling.
I won’t pretend there was any deep, meaningful joy in seeing the counters clean, but there was certainly a positive feeling welling up in my heart. I was delighted. What a wonderful way to start the day.
In that moment, my attitude toward cleaning the kitchen shifted. A little investment of energy at night to clean the counters was returned double with the morning peacefulness, which in turn reinforced the practice to clean the counter each evening.
I’m all about pursuing good habits, but this was different, because having clean counters was not the focus, the positive sense of well-being was. There was no judgment that a clean counter was proper or correct. Having a clean counter stopped being about should or ought or becoming the type of person who keeps her kitchen clean (whatever “type” that is and why it seemed important, I don’t know).
I started to look for other little things that I could invest energy into that would engender a sense of well-being.
When I paid attention to these few simple tasks, the positive feeling rippled through the rest of the day.
Over the years of this practice, something has shifted. As I consider tasks on my regular to-do list, I realize that there are two ways to approach them. One is to frame them as what I should do or have to do and the other is to focus on the delight after completion. I’m working on choosing the second option more often. The delight might be my own, or for the delight of a person or group of people.
Many tasks that I know will take a lot of time and energy, I can connect them to my heart by asking, “How might completing this lead to a small delight or sense of well-being for myself or others?” Whether it is as simple as clean counters or as large as a completed project, having a vision for how completion looks and feels helps realize the vision.
Kelly McGonigal talks about this in her book, Willpower. Starting the day by imagining the end of the day in as much detail as possible–with tasks completed–actually aids in reaching that vision.
And yes, there are tasks which don’t seem to have any delight to connect with. In this case, I try to focus on the sense of well-being I will have when I can simply cross it off the to-do list. (And fellow list-makers know: sometimes the joy of crossing something off is enough incentive.)
What gives me delight and helps cultivate sanctuary may not be the same as you. I invite you to reflect: What might your “clean counter” task be that would spark a sense of well-being or delight? What is one task whose completion by the end of today would spark delight?