One of my AmeriCorp*NCCC projects was trail-building in a natural reserve in Ohio. Our work days were long and physically demanding. We worked from eight to ten hours each day, hacking and digging and smoothing and building.
Then, at nighttime, I would dream for eight hours about using pulaskis and pick-axes and rakes. I’d wake up in the morning so annoyed at my subconscious. I mean, I was working really hard ALL DAY LONG – shouldn’t my dreams be a time when I could sit back and relax?
I thought of this today because last night I dreamed about harvesting husk cherries, which is what I did for three hours on Saturday afternoon. Even when I’m not asleep, I keep catching my mind drifting – I imagine myself scooping up a handful of husk cherries off the ground, popping them out of their husks to make sure they’re ripe and unblemished, and dropping them into my bucket. Over and over, and over again.
While I laugh about having my dreams full of monotonous physical tasks, I really find this kind of work incredibly rewarding and enriching. I love farming with Tee. It’s fun to complete a task alongside Tee or a friend, but I also love just working on a task by myself. Sometimes I listen to a podcast or an audiobook while I work, or sometimes (like yesterday, when my phone died) I work in silence. A task like that – repetitive, mindless – helps me to clear my mind and to calm my body. It can be a meditative ritual for me. It’s a naturally mindful experience – your mind is pulled into the present moment by the task at hand.
I’ve talked to friends who’ve tried meditating and have found it difficult to sit still for extended periods or to quiet their mind; the Meditative Power of Repetitive Tasks seems like a good response to that kind of struggle. You’re doing something that needs to get done – your mind (at least, part of it) is engaged in the task at hand – and repeating the same task over and over allows you to obtain a quiet, calm mind. Which, if your mind is as naturally bouncy and wild and hectic as mine is, is something to strive for.