For the longest time, I was a spiritual vagabond. And that worked for a while until it didn’t. I needed to claim a space in my busy world and drop roots. I needed to develop a solid practice.
I went to a Quaker gathering and stumbled on workshop about an upcoming Spiritual Formation program. It was just what I was looking for. I signed up immediately.
At the first retreat, we had to choose a personal spiritual practice. Something we could do regularly to tap into our Source. It could be journaling, yoga, meditation. It could be anything. I decided on dishes.
Dishes needed to be done everyday. They never stopped multiplying. I’d no sooner dry the last pan when a new crusty glass would appear in the sink. I began to resent my children’s appetites and wondered how long they could use one glass before I had to worry about food poisoning. Some bacteria exposure is like a workout for the immune system, isn’t it? Yeah, doing dishes sucked.
So it seemed the logical choice. I wouldn’t need to carve out new time for my spiritual practice. It was time I already spent. And I really wanted to transform my experience. I didn’t want to end each night silently cursing my people for their messy ways.
The first night of my practice, I looked at the dishes piled in the sink and inwardly groaned. Determined to change this reaction, I cleared out a space for the clean dishes, placed a mat on the floor by the sink for a little extra comfort and stood silent for a moment. I wasn’t exactly sure how go at it. I decided on starting with a silent prayer of gratitude; gratitude for having dishes to clean in the first place because it meant my family was fed. It meant I had a home with a kitchen and running water. It meant I was blessed.
I put my mind to the task. Picking up the first glass, I let the water run until it was hot and gave it a rinse. I squeezed out a dollop of dish soap and began to wash, mindful of the feeling of the smooth glass and the rough sponge. Mindful of the sound of the water. Mindful of the steam rising and how it felt on my face. I inhaled the scent of the soap. I inspected the glass for any evidence of its use. It was clear and clean and I found myself startled by the beauty of this undervalued object.
I was aware of every sensation, tuned in to the task at hand yet present with my family as they sat in the connected living room. I washed away the grime and fingerprints, the specs of water drops and dried bits of food. And I washed away the endless, useless clutter in my mind. When I was finished, I was satisfied in a way I can’t capture fully in words. It wasn’t that “pride in a job well done”. It was more wholesome. It was a deep feeling of … of what? Peace? Love? Appreciation? Yes. Yes. And yes.
As days went on and the rush of life picked up, I stuck with my practice. My mind didn’t always want to settle on the task. It had another agenda. It wanted to worry or complain or stress over some matter. In those times, I would concentrate solidly on the form of my practice. I wouldn’t try to make my mind turn to prayer or forced gratitude. I’d let it be and instead focus on the physical experience, the process of washing each dish. Sometimes, my mind would give in. Other times it wouldn’t. Some days my mind was tuned in from the start. Those days, the dishes were a breeze. It was all good, even if it wasn’t. In those present moments, in the experience of just washing the dishes, everything was okay.
My husband asked me to leave the dishes for him to do a few nights. I imagined it is because of how serene I looked at the sink. I have wondered since if that really was the case, if I could Scooby Doo the family into doing some other chores. So I added sweeping and packing lunches to my practice. I figured even if no one else was moved to pick up a scrub brush after witnessing my Palmolive-fueled zen, there was no losing. Every chore had become a chance for my heart to open to the moment.
With a busy house living the family circus, I now have endless opportunities to juice up my spiritual battery. There is always more work to be done. I can do it begrudgingly and deplete my stores of lovingkindness or I can tap into life in that moment and recharge. Either way, it has to get done. And fact is, if I don’t recharge, I can never truly be fully available in the moments I spend with the people in my world. And really, they are my world.
So it seems, the dishes have become my dharma. I never would have thought my path to enlightenment would start at my kitchen sink. That I’d find gratitude in soap bubbles. That the garbage disposal could be like my meditation bell. That I’d find peace scraping crud off a fork. Just imagine what great insight the junk drawer may reveal . . .