Thursday, March 31, 2011


Is there any household chore as relaxing as sweeping? 

I love sweeping for a few reasons..... it is methodical; it is rhythmic; and it is mesmerizing. 

Years ago I was a lifeguard. Whether guarding at a pool or a lakefront, the process of watching the swimmers was the same. Never keep the eyes still. Scan back and forth. Sweep up and down in a constant visual blanketing of the water's surface. I used to break up the pool or lake into sections in my mind and scan my eyes over one section, then move to the next, and the next, until I'd looked at the entire surface. Then I would shift my view back to the beginning and start over. No spot was left un-looked at. 

I sweep a floor the same way. I look at the space that I have to sweep and break it into logical sections so that my dirt-pile can move methodically from one end of the space to the other without re-sweeping any area. I always start at one end wall, pulling the dirt away from the wall all along the end of the room. And like a wave continually breaking along the beach, I work the dirt forward a foot at a time. Then back to the beginning, and the new wave of dirt and dust slides forward. And again, and again, until I have covered every inch of the surface, leaving it smooth and clean.

I love the rhythm of the broom moving over the methodically-sectioned space in a slow, purposeful rhythm that reminds me of nice, quiet jazz. A slow, feathered pull along the floor is punctuated by the snap of the bristles that have just enough time to end their staccato thwap when it's time for the next slow pull to begin. And over, and over, and over -- slow, feathered pull and then, thwap -- slow, feathered pull, thwap. (If you have no idea what I am talking about, go get a broom and slowly sweep the floor -- you'll hear it!) The only way the rhythm changes is if I decide to sweep more quickly -- then the rhythm livens up, but the sound remains the same.

That same sound repeating itself over and over in combination with the rhythmic motion mesmerizes me. I can get lost in the ordinariness of it all. As the motion and sound envelope me, my mind can wander or just blank out. 

I thought about all of this while sweeping today. But I wasn't sweeping the floor -- I was sweeping the concrete apron from the road to the gate in front of the house. It was covered with the build-up of Winter's dirt and pebbles that needed to be cleared away now that Spring has arrived. Instead of using a synthetic-bristle broom with a long handle, I used the only kind of broom that are used here -- a natural reed broom with a short handle making it necessary to sweep bent over. The area that I swept was pretty large, so I had time to analyze just why I love sweeping so much. The organization of the space, the rhythmic pattern of the bristles working, and the way I can get lost in the work invite me to relax my way.... in moving relaxation, not sitting relaxation. Often when I finish sweeping, I feel like I have just taken a nap.

But I am looking forward to sweeping with a long-handled broom again.

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