Is dishwashing going to be different when we’re enlightened?
No. There will always be chores. One zen master famously said that these details are all there is to life. After enlightenment, dishwashing might become even more important.
In fact, it might be a perfect way to test how enlightened you are. Just think of Ram Dass, who said:
“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”
Dishes on retreatsMany people go on retreats, these days. They really enjoy the silence, being mindful all day long, in the company of likeminded people. But a strange thing happens as soon as we end the silence. A wall of sound goes up instantly. I’ve seen people burst into tears at the sudden power of the cheerful chatter that fills the room. Instead of an orchestrated zen breakfast, with bells, chanting and bowing, the dining hall becomes the scene of a summer picnic. And when I look at the serving table, people are no longer waiting in line. They approach the food from all angles, bump into each other and smile.
And after breakfast, when everybody suddenly wants to go home, there’s the dishes. Let’s look at three different ways to wash them.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s approach
There you are, standing behind the sink. Thinking about driving home, what traffic will be like and how long it will take. Thich Nhat Hanh will stop by and ask you: “What are you doing?” You will then come back to the here and now and smile at him. In his book “Miracle of Mindfulness”, he says:
“There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.”
When you do the dishes quickly, so you can relax and have a coffee later, chances are that you won’t enjoy that either. Because when you drink it, you’ll be thinking of what to do next.
“Thus, we are sucked away into to future, and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
One thing I noticed is that when you’re doing things the mindful way, you will slow down. So if you are in a hurry, you might try:
Alan Watts’ approach
Alan Watts would say: “People forget why we do dishes. We do it for nice, because we like the plates to look good when we put them back on the table. Not with the remnants of breakfast still on it.”
“People get very compulsive about doing these things. (…) They see it as a duty, as a debt. As if you owe it to yourself, or to your family or to someone or other.”
Why don’t you just look at this one plate? It’s the only plate there is. It’s the only plate you’ll ever wash. Because you’re doing it right now. So enjoy it. Dip it into the water, shake it about, have a song and dance with it. Realise we are most happy when we’re playing.Do dishes together
I used to work with mentally handicapped youngsters. After meals, they crowded around to ask me if I would play a game with them, talk to them, read a story to them. And I had to do the dishes first because my superiors believed in cleanliness before happiness.
Suddenly I thought: “These cups and plates are all plastic, so even if they drop them, it doesn’t matter at all.”
It took them a while to realise that they could get my attention if they were prepared to work together. Before, they thought I had been hired to clean up after them. But in the end, we had some happy times. With their help, the dishes took longer, but were more fun to do.
It might sound silly to use a whole blogpost describing menial jobs. But when you think about how much time you spend on them, they suddenly become quite important. So why don’t you join me here next week, when we explore meditative vacuuming? If you want to share your experiences (to use one horrible new age expression), please do.