One by one I rack the dirty dishes. The steaming and splattering water coming out of the faucet cleans off most of the filth. The soap bubbles cleanse not only the plates and cups but also the air around them. Refreshing scents spread through the room. My hands have turned red by the heat of the water. I whistle a gentle happy tune. Outside I see a woman walking their dog. Its tail elegantly wiggling through the air. Similar to the woman’s hair elegantly wiggling through the air. Maybe that too is a sign of happiness? I wonder.
I return to doing the dishes and scrub off all remaining filth on the plate. Then place it back into the dish-rack. One by one the plates are cleaned and placed evenly apart to drip of the remaining water and soap. Forks and knives I place in small baskets. The sun reflects in their silver shining surface. I mostly smile. My mom who is next to me grabs a towel and dries off all plates. Together we carefully move through this seemingly dull daily task. Yet with each passing day, I come to appreciate it more.
Such a dull task isn’t it? To do the dishes? I felt like sharing this with you. Not because doing the dishes is such a life-changing event, but because it’s so mundane, so ordinary that we forget to do it with great care. Maybe we should appreciate these dull tasks more, and take a lesson out of them. We could of course rush through them to do more fun things. I am perfectly fine with that. But for those willing to live a life where they do everything with joy and peace the dishes can be a great place to start.
Taking as much pride in doing the dishes as in writing our novel, or talking to friends. Why is it we feel that such a small task is insignificant in our lives?
It’s a daily task, just like brushing our teeth or making food. Or at least for most, it is. Why don’t we do it with great care then? Taking as much pride in doing the dishes as in writing our novel, or talking to friends. Why is it we feel that such a small task is insignificant in our lives?
I have come to believe that we only want our lives to be filled with meaningful things. With work, with friends, with entertainment. The things that bring us joy, love, and meaning. Can’t the mundane things of life do this too? I feel they can. Not only that but I feel like these mundane and ordinary tasks can bring great joy into our lives. To me doing the dishes has become a sort of meditative practice. Maybe even an art form. Doing it with great care. Making sure everything is clean, or fits perfectly in the dishwasher. Not only that, but it is an act of kindness towards my mom and the rest of the family. Because I take care of it they now don’t need to do it, so they can enjoy whatever they want to be doing.
I think we should take great care in these small tasks. Do the dishes as if we are painting, or writing, or doing our jobs. It should be as profound, as serious as working out, meditating, and taking care of ourselves. Yet at the same time be joyous and playful. To strive to do these things with great care requires some sort of mental effort. Your brain either wants you to do it quickly, thinking that it is a waste of time. Or it wants to drift away into thoughts because these small tasks require little brain occupation. That’s the task you take on as you do the dishes or any insignificant task. It’s a meditative practice, a way of being mindful and finding an inner state in which even these tasks become of meaning.
Mastery in Doing the Dishes
It is not that I realize that doing the dishes is an art form. If you do it with mindfulness you see that there is great joy found in the cleaning of plates or whistling a happy tune. I even feel a deep feeling of connection towards my mom as we do this together each day of the week. I have found meaning even in such a small task like this. But of what meaning could this be, right?
It’s just as much part of my journey to self-mastery as any other task. At first, I believed that doing the dishes, or walking the dogs, or cleaning my room was of no meaning to this road. That writing, meditating, creating, and reflecting were of more meaning than the insignificant act of doing the dishes. I was wrong. Mastery isn’t dedicated to one large task. A master at kung fu doesn’t just master kung fu, he is master of his mind as well. He has trained himself in such a way that he can focus even on the smallest of things. Therefore he can notice when his opponent is breathing in, this is his weak spot. His inhalation leaves him vulnerable to a quick-strike because his reactive speed is lower when he breaths in. But the kung fu master could have only noticed this if he had trained his focus. He knows that focus isn’t just found on the mat, or in the dojo. It is found in everyday life. His ability to look at a tree and analyze it’s every crack and branch is just as much a practice to focus, as is his focus in the dojo.
Doing the dishes is therefore not just an act of cleaning the plates, cutlery, and bowls, it is an act of self-mastery.
The same goes for all other jobs and tasks we partake in. By doing everyday things with the care we will see new ways and solutions in our jobs and creative expressions. If I wouldn’t have been present with the art of doing the dishes I wouldn’t be having the inspiration to write about it now. Nor would I have the joy and focus of writing this. Doing the dishes is therefore not just an act of cleaning the plates, cutlery, and bowls, it is an act of self-mastery. It allows us to train the mind, to find that we can feel joyful, meaningful, and loved even in these mundane moments.
If we want to live a happy life, a meaningful life, or a life filled with love, our only task is to feel that in everything we do. Not to run from things, or rush through them. That would be a paradox to what we are striving for. Not doing the dishes or rushing through them would be an act of disgrace towards the dishes. Therefore to yourself, because you allow your mind to judge life. To tell you that this task is unnecessary. By doing it with great care you undermine this and notice the beauty in everyday life.
Doing the dishes with great care is an act of self-love because it makes you feel happy and meaningful even when you are doing such a small, almost insignificant task. So strive to do everything with great care. See the art in everything you do, that is part of our journey as well. That is part of living. It too will give you a sense of aliveness, so you can end your day and say Today I Lived, I made the most of it!