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10 Minutes to More Serenity With This Comforting Ritual

Is polishing the family silver a potential Zen moment?

Photo by Yana Hoffman "Unpolished silver" used with permission
Source: Photo by Yana Hoffman "Unpolished silver" used with permission

In Lorraine Eaton's article, "Before The Madness, Polish The Silver" (The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 6, 2015), she quotes Colin Brady, chief curator at the Hermitage Museum and Gardens in Norfolk, Virginia, on polishing the museum's silver: “There’s something spiritual about it...There’s a connection, and it’s real.”

I agree. Do you?

I vividly remember my mom polishing silver. That silver, including many Art Deco pieces, was passed down from my father’s immigrant parents. They, eventually, acquired some wealth and in the 1950s lived on Park Avenue in New York City. Back then, as the current steward of "the silver," my mother often instructed me, “Never sell the family silver."

There was something comforting in watching my mom do the task of polishing. Everything got assembled on the kitchen table. Once the silver, the cleaning supplies and the polishing cloths were all brought in and in order, the ritual began and everything became calm and focused.

It was as if the very act of polishing these beautiful pieces set our home, and her life, in order. Even though her hands moved, gently caressing the curves and angles of the pieces, our home felt still.

This attention to detail was unlike her compulsive, neat freak activities which so many women in the 1950s and 60s engaged in as one of the acceptable ways to channel their creative and entrepreneurial talents. Those neat freak activities take people away from connecting with their family and usually exude anxiety. Polishing the silver brought a sense of serenity and timelessness into our home.

And, as if receiving a rare blessing, I felt safe, cared for and intrigued watching her seated at the kitchen table attending to this task.

Recently, I mentioned something about “the silver” (some of which I now reverently have in my own home) to our 13-year-old granddaughter. To my surprise, she told me she remembered polishing the silver with me when she was much younger. I truly had no recollection of introducing her to this love of mine; although it certainly would be in character for me to proudly share that art and ritual with her as an expression of something, as grandmother and elder, I can offer my granddaughter.  Apparently, either the task itself or my narrative about it was presented in such a way that some eight or nine years later, at age 13, the impact remained.

It’s not necessary to have a collection of silver to derive the benefits of this timelessness, bonding, grounding activity. The comforts of “polishing the silver” are not limited to actual silver pieces. Any task where one is taking account of personal artifacts or carefully chosen items in the home, workshop or studio can have the same effect. Folding linens into uniform shapes, caressingly oiling the wood furniture, putting tools back or arranging them in a personally meaningful order, arranging books in such a way that they make appealing geometric shapes, displaying an array of watercolor brushes, even stacks of printer paper all pristine and ready to be called into service can evoke similar feelings. It’s the deliberate care-taking that can soothe us, not the monetary value of our possessions.

Organizing the meaningful objects in our life with mindfulness and appreciation (which is different from trying to maintain order and cleanliness in the outer environment as a way to control one’s inner anxiety) can be so very relaxing and emotionally regulating. Simply arranging things on the mantle or coffee table in a way that creates your own version of harmonious spatial relationships can bring on a wave of gratitude for one’s life.

Perhaps you might want to take 10 minutes out of your day, include your spouse, or children or grandchildren and polish the silver with the attitude that Brady of the Hermitage Museum and Gardens suggests: “Don’t plan anything else. Pour a glass of wine. Make it a Zen moment.”


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