as a means of going on
My weekends are for maintenance. I spend them plodding incessantly through the home like a ghoul or housewife, doing the laundry, tidying up my room, sweeping the floor, buying groceries, etc. Sometimes these tasks come up again in the week, but for the most part, I get them done over Saturdays and Sundays.
The routine stills me. It quietens my worries as I shrink the radius of my attention onto these tasks. They are tactile and tangible. They are within my range of action, the scope of things I can do for the world.
I do believe, now, that taking care of myself is a way of taking care of people. Taking care of my home is a way of taking care of the world. Before I awakened to this, while I was still in the thick of my depression & anxiety, I cared very little for my home space. And of course, how could I? I was struggling to recover from my childhood, and to survive my turbulent & damaging home environment. I was deeply anxious about my future, about my ambitions which seemed to grow larger by the day. I was also busy tunneling inward for answers. Save for a few friends and things like books, the outside world mostly exhausted, stressed and frightened me.
How could I have taken care of my home? I could have, if I realized then that taking care of another entity, especially one which also holds and cares for me, is a form of medicine. Each time I go through my weekend routine, I feel a mixture of relief and gratitude. I feel a sense of freshness, of starting over. I know that a part of this is about feeling in control, which is a shade of delusion I don’t want to overindulge. So I try to focus on that sense of freshness and abundance. The joy of washing something with tenderness and seeing it come out renewed, ready for another attempt at the world.
The more I bask in this happiness, the more I think about maintenance as a practice, as a way of living lightly. If the teachings of engaged Buddhism are true, that all I need to do in order to bring greater peace into my life and the world is to do things with care and awareness, perhaps all I need to do in order to live well is to do everyday things mindfully. I don’t need to be Radical, or Smart, or Talented, or Interesting. Which is not to say that living like this is not radical. I think it is. It is radical to make room for such care and awareness to become habit. It is radical to move through the world with a peaceful heart.
This is a curious change, because I was previously very averse to the idea of repetition and routine. Or at least I thought I was. I was inclined toward irregularity and diversity in my projects and schedules, but I also struggled with sudden changes and the tedium of scheduling and adapting every week. I often felt unmoored because I didn’t feel I had a foundation upon which everything was rising and falling. I also hadn’t fully understood how to take refuge within myself. I was not anchored.
I think, though, that that inclination was mostly a result of my ambitions, which thread out from my insecurities, my sense that I must be special, I must be successful on my own terms, sure, but in a visible way where I am admired and celebrated. There is nothing wrong with needing approval and applause, but I don’t like to act out of fear or craving.
These insecurities still swirl within me, within my drives, but I have also grown more at ease with myself. I have gotten more confident, not in the sense of feeling big and powerful and smart and attractive, but in the sense of trusting the wisdom and love within me, as well as knowing that the present moment is enough. Because the present moment is wonderful, and is actually all we have, I have no need to worry about the future. I have no need to become anything, because I already am.
That, for me, is the heart of maintenance. There is no need to become anything else, to create new things. We simply need to take care of what is already there. What is already there is all that we need. We often run away from what is there when it breaks or spirals out of our control, because we are afraid. We are afraid of the pain of our sadness and disappointment, and the pain of having to look at one another and say difficult and honest things.
Maintenance evokes the notion of repair. In order to maintain, we often have to repair. Both words can be misleading, because they suggest that disrupted or broken things can be returned to some “original” “functioning” state. More often than not, maintenance and repair are acts of restoration that incorporate the changes set in motion by breakage and disruption. I think there’s something here about living systems and chaos theory, two things I can’t say much about. I am also reminded of REFUSE by The Observatory, an exhibition in the Singapore Art Museum which looks at mycelial networks and decomposition as ways of understanding their time so far as a band.
Maintenance and repair can also take more time than we expect. I was reminded of this just over this past week, where a number of things swung me out of balance. I was shaken and panicked, unable to stop the emotions from surging and pulsing from within me. I experienced anger, and shame, and fear.
I know that these feelings are not me, and that I can breathe in and out of them. I can take care of them by listening to them without judgement, with a lot of love. But I can’t help how long this process takes each time. I simply have to sit with it, to stay open to the ache for as long as it needs to calm down. Sometimes this takes days, months, years. Sometimes this means cancelling or postponing engagements, or moving through them more gently, or making a small home within myself where the ache can rest as I tend to other things. Whatever it is, I know I cannot shut it out. Resisting only worsens, delays, or extends the process.
I am curious about your thoughts and practices around maintenance and repair. What sort of routines do you have around taking care of your space and yourself? There are already inevitable routines most of us have as dwellers of developed cities, like brushing our teeth and taking showers. I am interested in these and everything else.
If you’d like, feel free to write back. But whether I hear from you or not, I hope you have a peaceful and nourishing week. Whatever arises, may you move through it with love, patience, and curiosity. You can do it!