Some of you have heard of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. If you haven’t, it’s a book on the philosophy of quality. It has nothing to do with Zen, Art, or Motorcycle Maintenance. Unlike that book, I literally mean Zen, as in meditation; Job, as in it’s work; and Washing the Dishes, as in getting elbow-deep in a sink full of silky bubbles and warm water for the sole purpose of cleaning eating utensils.
But, am I crazy?
You may be asking yourself if I’ve gone off my rocker, because washing dishes is a chore not to be enjoyed or peaceful. Or, perhaps, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and know I could have just as easily titled this post, Zen and the Art of Riding a Horse, Cooking Dinner, Sky Diving, Anything I Can Do That Requires My Full Attention. This doesn’t include anything that I can do as a multitask. Can: TV and coloring. Can’t: TV and writing.
In Zen meditation, it is common practice to sit on a cushion on the floor in lotus pose. I’ve discovered this is not convenient to washing dishes, and I am incapable of simply sitting silently for long periods of time. Plus, my meditation pillow would slide around on the floor. What I can do, that is very much like common Zen practice, is be present with thoughts and let them fall away as they come to me.
So, I’ve found another way to fit meditation into my day: I wash the dishes.
I know, right? Pretty crazy.
First, I wander around the house to make sure that every dirty dish not in use is on the kitchen counter. Then, I find the sink plug, and use it to block the drain. Finally, I turn on the water to a slightly hot setting and add the soap. Just a drop or two. No need to have more bubbles than water, though that is fun in a bath. Who am I kidding? Bubble it up, folks!
The sound of the water rushing into the sink is comforting, lulling me into a trance and preparing me to focus on not focusing on my thoughts. The bubbles pop and tickle as I reach my hand into the water with the washcloth, using my other hand to take the first dish and place it in the sink with a muted splash, then turn off the water. The water pulls blood to my hands like a thermometer pulling mercury up in the summer sun, and undertow feels calm and relaxing. Side note: this also relieves headaches.
With my left hand, I hold the dish as I use the rag to wipe away the leftover food bits, feeling the cat’s tongue-like texture of the warm, wet terrycloth. Slowly, I become more and less aware of my thoughts and surroundings. I am mesmerized by the swirl of the water off the dish as I rinse it and place it on the bamboo dish rack to the right of the sink. I continue this process, left to right, hot and effervescent, refreshed and cool, until each dish is clean and in the rack. I sink deeper and deeper into thought and non-thought, allowing my thoughts to come, be acknowledged, and fall away.
As I finish, drain the sink, and dry my hands, I am left with a feeling of relaxation and clear-headedness. I close my eyes, take a few deep breaths, and step away from the sink.
Sometimes, downward dog is next on the menu.