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New World Library Unshelved

New World Library Unshelved

Positive news and inspiring views from the New World Library community

Wednesday, January 20, 2016
SAVED BY THE LAUNDRY: FROM HAMPER TO HAPPINESS IN 8 STEPS by guest blogger Karen Maezen Miller, author of HAND WASH COLD

Zen teacher Karen Maezen Miller is known for helping her readers and students understand that the contentment they think of as “out there” is actually here and now. We hope you’ll enjoy this guest post by Karen, which is based on her book Hand Wash Cold

We also invite you to be part of our upcoming Awareness Series Telesummit, in which Karen will be teaching a class called “10 Tips for a Mindful Home.” Registration is free and grants you access to 10 teleclasses that are being offered by top teachers of mindful living. Each class will offer practical strategies for turning down the overwhelm meter in your life so you can regain a sense of purpose, power, and peace.  

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When I was thirty-five, I looked up one day and realized that I hadn’t had a life. I’d had a lot of things. I had a husband and a marriage. We had two late-model cars, two high-speed careers, and a two-story house on an oak-lined street. I had everything I ever thought I wanted, and much more than I needed. What I did not have was happiness. Or laundry.

What happened next is the story of spiritual awakening told in my book Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life. For ten years running, I had someone else do my laundry and almost all my other household chores. Any of us would choose that option if we could, but there was an unseen price. The wash, the kitchen, and the yard were tended, but I lived with a persistent feeling that I was missing out on a life of greater purpose. My real life was going to begin on some other day, I kept thinking, when I had myself situated in an even better place.

It’s easy to think that meaning, fulfillment, and bliss are “out there,” somewhere outside the grind of our daily routine. So we keep searching. But I found happiness in one of the last places any of us wants to look. I took back the load I had long foisted on someone else: the washing, drying, and folding that constitute an authentic life.

You can too, because everything you need for lasting joy and satisfaction is found at the bottom of your laundry basket. Here are eight ways to wring profound wisdom from your least favorite chore:

Empty the hamper — Laundry gives us an honest encounter with ourselves before we’re freshened, fluffed, and sanitized. It gives us a mirror to the parts of ourselves we’d rather overlook and makes us take responsibility for our own messes. Self-examination reveals the pure wisdom that resides within each of us.

The instructions are in your hands — The tag inside a garment tells you exactly how to care for what you hold in your hands. Not just clothing, but every bit of life comes with instructions when we are attentive enough to notice. Doing it well may take more work than we’d like, but the effort is always worth it in the long run.

Handle with care — It’s inevitable: everything shrinks, fades, and falls apart. Nothing stays brand-new. The most precious things we have are fashioned of flimsy fabric. Be mindful with each moment you have, and you will experience your life in a different way.

Treat upsets immediately — Tomato sauce sets. Coffee stains. Ink is indelible. In laundry as in life, resolve upsets immediately, before the residue of resentment sets in. When they’re not treated quickly, everyday messes can worsen into a lifetime of regret.

Don’t swallow the soap — There are no whiter whites or brighter colors, no matter what the detergent promises. Nearly all our problems stem from the stubborn view that what we are and what we have are not good enough. We wear our insufficiency like a permanent stain, and that’s why everything we keep buying is some kind of soap. Don’t swallow it! When we release ourselves from judgment, we free everyone else from our criticism and blame. Plus, we can save money on cheaper brands.

Let the spin cycle stop — Most of us spin the same anxious thoughts, fears, and worries in our heads over and over, creating needless suffering for ourselves and everyone around us. Only when we let the spin cycle come to a rest, quieting our churning minds, can we lift the lid and find the load inside rinsed completely clean. Then we can move forward into the fresh breeze of daylight.

The treasure lies within — Like the wad of bills left in a pants pocket or the spare change that turns up in the bottom of the dryer, there’s a treasure to be found where you’d least expect it: inside. Stick your head in and have a good look.

Every day is laundry day — Every day brings the chance to slow down, pay attention, take care, and engage intimately with the fabric of your own life. Sort the light from the dark, the delicate from the indestructible, and the heavy duty from the hand wash cold. The very thing you think you’re missing — happiness — is found every time you reach the bottom. 

Is it possible that modern discontent and restlessness can be calmed with the mundane activities of everyday life? The journey beyond heartache, failure, fear, and cynicism always leads to a ready-made life of true fulfillment right where you stand.

I wasted the life I once had, but bit by bit, I reassembled the remnants and made myself happy and whole. It begins with the laundry, and it leads everywhere you never thought you’d go. If your hamper is full, you have everything you need to start right now. 

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is the author of Hand Wash Cold, Momma Zen, and most recently Paradise in Plain Sight. She’s also a Zen Buddhist priest, meditation teacher, wife, and mother. Visit her online at  

Based on the book Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life, copyright © 2010 by Karen Maezen Miller.


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