Resting Stroke

When I was a kid taking swim lessons, the instructors taught us to use the backstroke or sidestroke as a “resting stroke.” A way to take a break from the more strenuous swimming stroke, which was usually the crawl.

In parts of my daily routine, I find there are natural “resting strokes” as well. I’m learning that the menial little chores I used to find annoying or tedious (such as taking out the trash, tidying up the contents of my canvas carry-all sack, putting air into my bicycle tires, reattaching a fence-board that’s become detached because the old screws rusted out) are actually a deep refuge. A “resting stroke” from the more challenging items I’ve chosen to take on my To-Do list; the things I consider my actual work. Preparing for a radio show; putting together a lecture for a permaculture design class; composing an email to suggest ways for my city to reduce its carbon footprint or mitigate heat; making a plan to speak at a meeting; writing a blog post; writing fiction — that sort of thing. Tasks that force me to stare down the abyss, confront self-doubt, sit in the discomfort of the unknown.

The fact that these menial little tasks like finding more cover-matter for the compost pile have to get done is like a mandatory break from the hard stuff. The hard stuff is ultimately my heart and soul, and I would never want to shirk it. But the itty-bitty tasks I have really come to appreciate as a sweet place to get centered, recharge, unhook from mind-exertion.

Of course, Buddhism and other religions have always counseled humans to be mindful in the present moment. I love the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chödrön, to name a couple of spiritual thinkers whose writings have helped me more fully appreciate the here and now.

But this “resting stroke” realization I had recently is like a whole new level of appreciating the present moment. I think I’ll keep it!