I have a lot going on. I know everybody says that, but in my case it’s true. For example, right now I am working on a six-part fictional series with a partner and writing a book about business and ideology. I develop online courses, teach three undergraduate classes, sing in a church choir (baritone), and write this blog. Just imagine what the blog would look like if I got more sleep.
The other day an online meeting was cancelled, and I had to decide what to work on in its place. I went through the list but soon got overwhelmed. For a moment I was paralyzed. So, what did I do? What any red-blooded, American male would do.
I am not proud of this little secret of mine, which I haven’t shared with anyone until now. There’s just something about ironing that focuses my mind and calms me down. It could be the pressing of wrinkles in a shirt, the smooth gliding of the hot metal surface over polyester, cotton, or wool, or the gurgling and hissing of steam as it courses its way through the little apertures of the hot surface. Maybe it’s all of these, creating a sense of order and harmony. And who doesn’t love order and harmony? What bliss!
Forgive me for waxing poetic, but ironing has a rhythm to it, and more than a few times I have danced during the act. That’s a tricky thing to do, especially if you’ve just stepped out of the shower. So I would not recommend it if you are just beginning to explore the wonders of ironing as meditative practice. One must respect the iron and approach it with humility. Only then can you dance in the buff.
How many things in life allow you to lose yourself in the moment, freeing you from the drudgery of everyday life with its emphasis on efficiency and action? Not many. Technology in its many forms has taken over every aspect of our lives. So, the masses seek escape in music, professional sports, and social media. That these serve as apertures for the release of societal steam just like the ones in an iron doesn’t occur to most people, but that’s exactly what they do.
But ironing is not merely a way to unwind or kill time–not that either of these is a bad thing. It transcends time and space the way that sex and the liturgy are supposed to do. This may be difficult to believe when both sex and the liturgy are often performed as clumsily as high school productions of Bye Bye Birdie, but that’s beside the point. You wouldn’t fault the entire field of structural engineering because a particular bridge buckled and fell into the river, would you?
None of this should be confused with the word “iron” as used by the wider culture where it signifies strength, endurance, and resoluteness. After all, Iron Man did not get his name because he meditated over his trousers. This includes variants like “ironing out” and “ironing over,” which imply action and problem solving, sometimes in a forceful way.
Ironing, like preparing tea and other Zen practices, is all about ritual. The structure of the ritual comes close to prayer, which is why it requires time. Whenever I am rushed for time, it defeats the purpose of ironing (other than the obvious one).
The worst thing that could happen is to be rushed ironing a shirt. And it does happen. Sure, a blue blazer can cover a multitude of sins, but just knowing I am wearing a wrinkled shirt undermines my confidence. And, you know, it’s a competitive world out there. I need all the confidence I can muster.
You might say it’s a pressing issue.