The Buddha says, “Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all.”
I was kneeling next to the bathtub scrubbing the tub like it hadn’t been scrubbed in a long time. And the truth is, I couldn’t remember the last time I had really scrubbed it. With each thrust of my arm, all I could think was, “This is never going to get done…I am so so tired.” Feelings were stacking on top of each other as I realized that even this “cuts through years of soap scum” cleaner wasn’t working.
When my daughter Ellie Jane was born, we turned the guest room into her room, which means that when my mom and step-dad visit us, they usually stay at a hotel. But this trip, my mom was coming alone and sleeping on our pullout sofa. So this time, my need to get the bathtub clean was at an all-time high as she was due to arrive the next day.
But it wasn’t getting clean.
I moved on to the tile on the sides of the shower hoping at least they would find their way to sparkle. Standing in the shower, I used all the elbow grease I had in me to move that green scrub sponge back and forth, up and down. The results were slow.
Next, I began to concentrate on one tile. It took longer than I want to admit to get that one tile sparkling, but finally it was white again.
Then I moved on to the next one.
After about six were clean, I was almost in tears because the arms attached to this not-so-much-in-shape body hurt so much. And my mind was swirling with the to-do list I needed to complete before my daughter woke up from her nap.
So I stopped and stood there staring at the handful of sparkling white tiles next to the not-so-white-cloaked-in-soap-scum tiles thinking about how it would take me hours to finish this. As I tried to breathe in the midst of the strong smell from the cleaner that hadn’t worked, I could hear a voice wiser than me, yet from within me, say, “One tile at a time baby girl.”
So I started to clean again. As I began to find the rhythm with my sponge, my mind turned with thoughts of “How could I let the shower get this dirty?” and “Why didn’t I just clean more often?” and “How do I get anything done around here?” and “Shouldn’t someone in her mid-thirties have a cleaner house than mine?” and on and on. After another tile was clean, I stopped at this thought, “Whose expectations are these really?”
My mother doesn’t have the expectation that I will spend five hours of my life scrubbing my shower before she arrives. I know she would rather I spend those five hours resting and laughing and getting to the park with Ellie and enjoying dinner with my family.
And there was the lesson again: My swirling mind was creating expectations and guilt and ideas of how things should be instead of being present to how things are and I want them to be.
So I listened to this wiser me and came up with a plan: Every time I shower, I scrub one tile until it sparkles.
And even thought it might take me all summer to get that shower sparkling, I am getting it done at my pace.
As I write these words, it seems so simple, this story about how scrubbing a shower reduced me to tears but then reminded me of how I want to live. And it feels a bit inspired by Mr. Miyagi, and a lot inspired by a desire to be right here in this moment instead of rushing ahead to imagined expectations that do not serve me.
Today, maybe you are finding yourself rushing ahead or making assumptions or creating a to-do list that isn’t serving you or thinking you are supposed to somehow do it all.
Maybe instead of doing all of that swirling, we could just be right here together: one tile, one step, one breath at a time.