photo from getty images

Throughout my independent adult life I have always enjoyed washing dishes.  Yes, you read that correctly, I have always enjoyed washing dishes.  I have a dishwasher in my home, and one in the two homes before living here.  None of them have every been used, at least not for washing dishes.

Washing dishes has fulfilled many of my needs over the years though these needs may vary across time.  And yes, there are times when the task holds little reward for me, though this is a rarity, or when I have completed the task just to get it done rather than to enjoy the experience.  Now, there’s a phrase — enjoy the experience — most folks would never pair with washing dishes.  You see, my attitude towards washing dishes is such that applying the label ‘chore’ to it just doesn’t seem right.  A ‘chore’ is generally an unpleasant task or something so routine and mundane it is performed mindlessly.

On the practical side then, my family has only consisted of five people, at its largest.  Today there are only three of us in the house.  I cannot fathom owning enough dishes to allow us to continue eating while we wait for the dishwasher to be full enough to run.  I wonder if this concept, of having more ‘stuff’ (in this case dishes and more space to store them) in order to do less really works for people?  Or, is it more stuff in order to do more?  Either way, I have trouble here.  Five people does not = too many daily dishes, so three surely does not.

The practical aside, I’ll let you in on the great wonders of washing dishes:

  • it is the rare family member who wants to help, so I am assured of time to myself.  No one will even stick their head in for fear of being recruited to a tea towel tabata.  Washing dishes is like solitude on a schedule.
  • my hands are in warm, sudsy water.   Are you there?  The warmth is comforting, relaxing, soothing.  There is a therapeutic value here in which I revel and, as an additional benefit, my cuticles are gently softened.  Some people pay for this and call it aesthetic services!
  • in a relatively short period of time, I can take a cluttered and soiled space and create order.  I can take stacked glassware, sloshing with dregs, scattered cutlery and spent pots, and turn them into squeaky cleans glinting from their assigned cubbies.  The sparse counter profile is pleasing in its austerity.
  • cleaning up is an act of love, as important to me as part of how I care for my family as the creation and consumption of shared nourishment.  When my partner is doing the cooking, I enjoy providing the follow through, the continuity in this important family ritual by leaving the kitchen tidy.  I also love the feeling of having the room ready for the next scrumptious tryst.
  • there is a lovely window above the kitchen sink.  I can observe clouds pass, hummingbirds flit,  black hollyhocks gently sway, damp sheets billow on the line, a fast moving skunk skitter under a crumbly shed, snowflakes drift down or drive horizontal, frost patterns on the pane, garage lights come on when he arrives home, potato harvesters trolling the field, crab apples bright in maturity, a burning bush of sentimental value pass seasons, paint peeling, spiders of the fat juicy variety live a lifetime, webs of silver, too tall grass, a treeline which cannot be separated from the beauty of the skyline, the pointer on the outside thermometer.  There is much to observe.
  • washing dishes is frequently a time when I can be mindful.  I can breathe, I can be aware, I can just be.

The point of meditating is to bring about a greater degree of mindfulness, so that your entire life can be transformed.

To some extent this can happen naturally; the mindfulness we develop in meditation simply spills over into our daily lives, and we find ourselves being more aware of how our mind and emotions function in everyday encounters with the world, leading to an increased freedom from reactive emotional and mental habits.

But we don’t have to simply hope that our meditation will have an effect on the rest of our lives. We can consciously choose to use everyday activities as opportunities to practice mindfulness.

~ from Wildmind

Oh, and if I were a portrait kind of girl, I might have mine done while doing dishes.