Do the Washing Up, Take out the Rubbish…!
There is a famous Zen Buddhist saying, attributed to Wu Li:
[Life] before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
[Life] after enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
So too, the life of an expat parent in Switzerland (or any parent anywhere)!
When we move countries, somehow we think that we will leave our old lives behind. The day-to-day activities will be newer, shinier and somehow less dull than before. We won’t be bored! It will be exciting! We can escape our daily lives! Surely things are better over there (wherever on the globe “there” is).
At first, everything is so different! Daily chores are an interesting challenge! There is so much to learn! So much to see! Yup, this is the “honeymoon” phase of the whole Expat experience. After six months or so, life gets its rhythm back. The shine is dulling. The ordinariness of daily life, is being felt again and the toilet still needs cleaning. Our lives are back to that marvellous new verb: to “adult.” This is known as the horror of “adulting,” expressed in the present continuous tense to show that it is an on-going and thus never-ending experience in the present. Parents have to do a great deal of adulting, mostly when we really don’t want to. We are often trapped in mundane household chores: never-ending washing-up, laundry, cooking, cleaning, food shopping, picking up and dropping off of kids, and so on. Notice how they are also commonly expressed in the present continuous tense!
So how do we survive this adulting experience without going nuts (or is it too late!?!). What keeps us trapped in adulting, and the story of adulting, is the desire to escape or somehow transcend the mundane. This often comes in the dream that we will be rescued, or that the chores will stop, or that we will win the lottery, or move to a country where “staff” are part of the expat relocation package. You know the stories. I call these our “Cinderella stories,” where we are in denial of our present moment experiences and are awaiting to be rescued by a Fairy Godmother (who, let’s face it, was the real hero of the story, rather than the dancing posh prince with a foot fetish!).
It is these stories, rather than the chores themselves, that cause the problem. We create a giant story arc about our life and where it is going. All we know is that our mundane existence shouldn’t be as it is: that we should be rescued (positive thinking!) or that we are doomed to this existence forever (negative, depressive thinking!). Neither kind of thinking is very useful, as they are both trying to wish away the current experience: to abandon the adulting and play something else all together. We spend most of our lives trying to live the life that we are dreaming of, rather than our actual lives. This huge gap is where our unhappiness lies.
Our minds will tell us a billion-and-one things whilst we are doing something as simple as washing the dishes. The only thing that is true in any one moment is what is right there: the dish in hand. The whole experience is the dish being washed. It is not forcing you to do it by its world-domination evil dish-like nature. It is not an indictor of your life. It’s a dish. That is being washed. Apparently by you. That is all.
Is this mindfulness? Yes and no. Mindfulness has become such a buzz word of late that it is seen as a way to elevate everyday experience into something grander and more spiritual.
“I shall not just do these dishes and waste my life doing these dishes! No! I shall dooooooo them Mindfully! Check me out with my spiritual powers! Ha!”
Essentially it has become yet another story to be used to escape those darn dishes. You don’t need to move countries to escape, or dream your life away. The answer is in the dishes, of truly getting into and experiencing your life. As it is. Now. This is true mindfulness. It has no goal, no judgement, no attachment; it is finally experiencing life as it is. Don’t let your mind chatter tell you otherwise!
That reminds me! Please excuse me – it is bin day tomorrow! I’ve got to take the rubbish down to the side of the road! Do the washing, take out the rubbish!
By Tammy Furey
Tammy eases the expat parenting experience through coaching and teaching throughout Switzerland. She also writes, blogs, gives talks, does the washing, doesn’t hoover enough, and parents Missy M! Find out more at http://fureycoaching.com/.
Illustration by Albina Nogueira
Albina Nogueira has been a primary school teacher since 1992, and a writer and illustrator since 2006. She currently lives in Switzerland and teaches Portuguese. She is also the author of Letters to Grandparents and Hairdresser. To find out more visit: http://albinanogueira.blogspot.ch/ or see her books on Amazon.