(*This title was inspired by my friend A, who cleans up after a minimum of five dogs, every single day.)
I've always been charmed by those tasks which are mentioned in books of Buddhist philosophy as good practice for being in the moment: chopping wood, carrying water, sweeping the garden paths. Simple tasks, and repetitive, but also clean, spare and elegant, like a Japanese garden.
I have lately come up with another task which can lead one to being in the moment, to engaging in process rather than attaching to outcomes (since it is endless), and to maintaining a properly humble attitude: pooper scooping.
I have practiced pooper scooping on a daily basis for about a week now. At first, I used my long-handled tools--the shovel and the rake--to keep at arm's distance from the object of my efforts. But I have discovered that that doesn't work. To scoop poop efficiently, especially if it is encased in ice, you have to get up close. You have to grab your tools near the business end for maximum leverage, and you have to dig and carve. You sometimes even have to dislodge a stubborn bit with the toe of your rubber boot. And you have to retrieve the pieces that fly off and scoop them patiently onto the shovel, then into the bucket. You have to be present, you have to be humble, you have to be one with the poop.
Here I am, an educated 21st century woman living in the world's most affluent society, doing work that, in the cradle of Buddhism, is relegated to the untouchables. How ironic! How utterly paradoxical!
I believe that pooper scooping--like washing lepers' wounds--is an excellent Buddhist, and Christian, exercise. It puts you in touch with the present (you have to concentrate to do it well); it puts you in touch with the realities of life (food-to-poop on the one hand, suffering and death on the other); and it makes you feel gratitude (for having dogs, for not having leprosy). Its rhythm--walk, scoop, dump, walk, scoop, dump--induces a meditative state similar to that achieved by deep breathing methods.
Except that, when you pooper scoop, you try to keep deep breathing to a minimum.