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Our Life’s Work: Folding and Unfolding

My husband Bruce does all our laundry.


It’s been this way from the beginning of our relationship. He said that as a younger man, he’d promised himself no woman would ever wash his underwear. I took him at his word.


He spent his formative teenage years reading “Ms. Magazine” which was founded at the beginning of the feminist movement and really influenced his thinking. And I am the grateful recipient of Gloria Steinem’s early efforts.


Yes, I am a truly well-kept woman as he even hangs the washing outside, weather permitting, so it’s got that lovely smell of fresh air. The hamper is then brought back up to our bedroom, where I take over the folding and putting away. I’m a big of a laggard here, truth be told, but it gets done in the end.


Recently, while folding and putting things away, I thought about how much personal growth and folding laundry have in common… the language of folding and unfolding. Rather like the Japanese art of origami where paper is folded into new shapes, so too are we unfolded and folded anew as life works its magic. Yes, the new you has creases from the previous form, and it may not be as crisp as it once was, but all that shows is the passage of time, the nicks and imprints that come from wear.


Naively, when I was in my 30s, I used to say that I had no regrets. That there was nothing in my life at that time that caused me regret. Typical bluster from my younger self. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I hadn’t really lived enough, and learned enough from life, to have regrets yet.


My life really took off in my 40s – the confidence that had escaped me in my 30s was suddenly available. I’d shaken-off the deep sadness coming out of my first marriage and was entering into a fresh and ultimately fulfilling new relationship. My kids were growing into fine young men; my career was exactly where I wanted it to be. And then, unexpectedly, my mom died. I was 47, and the bottom fell out of my world.


As I moved through those early years of loss, I really felt the drop of my spirit and the weight of my past. It was almost instant. Those doubts and regrets that I never thought I’d have emerged raw and sharp as I turned them around in my heart. I slipped into a deep malaise, and ebbed there for a while before fresh winds blew the mists away.


I can’t believe it, but mom’s been gone almost nine years now. I’ve since developed a new and different appreciation of those feelings of self-doubt and regret.


Its funny how regret is such a difficult thing to admit in our culture. The bluster of denying our regret is a feature of many of our younger selves. And yet, as poet David Whyte says in his brilliant book “Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words”: “Fully experienced, regret turns our eyes, attentive and alert, to a future possibly lived better than our past.”




From this place now, I see that my biggest regret is how distanced I am from my experience. I have next to no memories of my past. Understanding this and becoming present for my current life, is core to the practices I have built, and have placed around me like cushions, holding me up until practice becomes habit.


All this is possible due to what Martha Beck, in chapter six of her book “The Joy Diet: 10 daily practices for a happier life,” calls “Treats.” She invites us to give ourselves three treats a day – one when we take a risk, and two “…just because you’re you.” Treats are necessary because they take the sting out of hard things, and create an incentive for positive habit building. Treats, and my experience with them, forms the focus of this week’s podcast episode on “Meanderings with Trudy.” Read chapter six in her book to learn how you too can on-board this delightful practice.


And now, I need to get back to putting away the laundry.

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