Zen and the Art of Base Maintenance

Mondays are something special at SANAE IV – ‘skivvie’ or cleaning day.  As you can imagine, this is greeted with vast enthusiasm by most of the inhabitants.  There is a grudging presence of all hands at the prescribed hour, but many evil glares fall upon me as I whistle while I work. 

There have been many occasions in the past few months that I’ve wished my mother (or, case in point, my step-mother) could be a proverbial fly on the wall.  Most of them have featured me involved in some form of menial labour – I would never have suspected, if asked six months ago, that my life would include such liberal doses of labour with hundreds of boxes that need moving, a broom, mop, dishcloth or shovel. 

The honest spade becomes a firm friend when resident in the White Desert.  We dig away snow to clear containers, fuel drums and sledges, dig free skidoos, shovel endless loads of fresh snow into the smelter to make water, dig open hatches buried beneath drifts after every windy day… and so the list goes on.  Thereafter, it’s important to remember its potential use as a hammer, a lever, a blade, or even an impromptu snow-anchor.  It’s also a portable workout, when engaged in any the aforementioned tasks with sufficient vigour, but digging up sufficient snow to fill a 4300 litre smelter has to take the cake when it comes to upper-body day.  Oops, no cake… Of course, I’m discovering that many tasks can be viewed in the same light.  Today, it fell to me to clean the hallways of B-block; while 100m of hallway and assorted additional alcoves may not seem demanding, the job begins to grow on you when the last stroke of the broom brings realisation that it’s time to collect a mop and bucket and start at the very beginning again.  Repetitive work, however, can be a place of great mind-space – released from the requirement to commit too many neurons to the task at hand, the mind can wander and create without the guilt that usually accompanies daydreaming.  Solutions present themselves to problems I havenâ??t yet discovered; introspection leads to better understanding of my peers, and the free flow of thought yields ideas as if they have just been waiting for a momentary open mind.  Perhaps my manual labour is a poor simulacrum of the emptiness of the yogiâ??s mind.

Those who recognise the (misquoted) title of the post may wonder if this philosophical discourse is stimulated by the eponymous book.  Certainly, I have read it recently, and found many questions growing, but the greatest parallel I can draw with cleaning the base and carrying boxes is that regarding Gumption.  Yes, Gumption with a capital letter.  All who know me as, well, less than neat, would be shocked to discover that I have found a secret delight in washing dishes, a reward in repacking storage and a glee in a well-polished hallway.  The secret is simple â?? seek quality in your sweeping, and your cup of Gumption shall forever be full.  Now, if only I can get the others to whistle alongâ?¦

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