In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

The zen of shop mopping

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Nope, I will not write yet another wax-on-wax-off tale of patience and fortitude–not exactly. I can declare neither hate nor love for mopping to wring a lesson from the chore. And it is a chore, one that ends the night at the frozen yogurt shop after a long or short shift late at night. 

After turning off the “open” sign, I commence the real work of the night: twenty or thirty large and small tasks, including bagging trash, counting money, wiping counters, refrigerating perishables and washing dishes. 

There are tables, chairs, sinks, counters and machines to be wiped down; trash cans to be emptied, collected and dumped; and monitors, lights and signs to be turned off. Food needs to be collected, capped and stored. Money needs counting, sometimes re-counting, and the morning’s drawer calculating. Each of these tasks is not difficult or time-consuming but the sum total of task-to-task and back-to-front activity wears a body down, certainly sucks a mind’s attention down the drain with the dirty dishwasher. On auto-pilot.

So by the time the final chore of the hour before locking the door behind me to the other side where the cool, nearly-midnight air refreshes my sweaty face and tired bones, I am both excited and exhausted at the thought of mopping the entire store, the longest, most arduous chore of the clean up. 

Nearing the finish line, the mind takes the bloodiest beating in a marathon run. Roughed up for miles but patiently ticking the feet and hours away, the mind waits while the body mindlessly erodes. And just when the body gives out, its last shred of fuel expended, grindingly painful, the mind kicks in hard to turn the cogs, shovel the coal of the engine by sheer might and will so the machine will turn and one foot wil continue to be placed in front of the other to inch away toward the most beautiful words ever sported on a banner: “Finish Line.”

The most dangerous place, finish line in sight, is the likeliest place for injury. I want to get it done, sprint past the pain to grab the sweet god-like goal of stopping–to be done actually, not the mental done-ness of being over the whole run, race, challenge, training, preparation and completion thing that occured miles before then. 

But sprinting is foolish. Mistakes are made: a tired sloshy ankle gives way, dizziness or nausea may end the race at the medical tent, or longer recovery time incited by even more ligament and tendon strain than has already been inflicted by the previous 26 miles.

No, the better choice is to keep steady, rein in the mind’s anticipation and body’s blind adrenaline. When I have resisted the lurch–the mad dash to freedom–and kept my pace even and weary-strong, lifting my agonized thighs just a tad higher to lighten my cement feet for a slight spring to my chugging trot, I feel better, less miserable, and more attentive to the faces and cheers around me (a thinned crowd by then). Relishing the moments, I call it.

I do not relish mopping, especially after the mind stultifying hours of lulls and frenzies of retail that leave me aching to go home, actually anywhere far from slung frozen dessert. 

But mopping has its up side. 

Surprisingly, mopping involves a bit of know-how, technique, and physicality. Without a bit of coordination, the mop does not swirl, curl and swoop rhythmically and capaciously. Without the meditative steadiness of pace, space and motion in a dance of short-stepping, weight shifting, forearm tension and bicep propulsion, all in a swivel and sway of calculated spatial coverage, mopping feels and probably looks more like a wrestling match with an unwieldy, dead-weighted dragging opponent. 

Mopping too quickly expends too much energy, produces too much perspiration and inevitably leads to missed spots, besmirching reputation, calling workmanship and thereby a worker’s integrity into question–no pride in her work.

More importantly, however, rushing a mop across a ceramic tile floor deprives the mopper a pleasingly measured assessment of work in progress, a confident chipping away at an expanse, the satisfying glide of wet cloth strands across a slick surface and focused scrutiny of tile by tile smudges. Moreover, the muscle and dance of the mopping, a duet of synchronized synapse and lead-and-follow, is also lost. 

Attention to detail, to each inch of the mop’s path, unfolds appreciation for disappearing dirt slid to clear clean, and the running catalog of muscles fired in the process from wrist, ankles, balls of the feet, toes, calves, thighs, upper and lower back, buttocks, fingers and neck. 

All mindful movement yields connections to the eternal, a presence of doing and being. The deep listening of notice, of attuned awareness tricks time, averts the mind’s eye from pain to stillness–a sort of suspension–suffering to studied observation, a diversion ending in momentary neutrality and connection to the sideways slanting of life. 

Mopping–when the mood is right–takes me there.

One thought on “The zen of shop mopping

  1. Pingback: Jackhammer Song | In the gaze of the other

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