Doing the dishes is not my favorite activity. It’s a task that just needs to be done. Even though our household is small, there always seems to be stack of dishes by the sink.
Yet recently I noticed something about the chore. There are times when my attitude isn’t as negative. There are times when I’m more willing to take the job for what it is and do it without complaining.
The work becomes an act of service. I do it out of a desire to help – so that my wife doesn’t have to. The task is rooted in love, not obligation.
I’m open to gratitude. I am thankful for the good food that we just ate. I’m thankful to have quality dishes, pots, and pans. I’m thankful for the abundant, clean, running water at my disposal.
Out of my gratitude, I more readily move to thoughts of compassion. I reflect on those who go hungry. I remember those who don’t have clean water. And I offer a brief prayer for them.
I’m more mindful – connected to the present moment. Instead of rushing through the work so I can move on to something else, I embrace the job. I’m aware of what I’m doing – noticing the water, the dishes, the soap. I’m calm and relaxed as I work.
And on some rare occasions, I even take joy from it. I delight in the feel of the warm water on my skin. I take satisfaction in making each dish clean again.
Why the difference in attitude though? What is it about certain days that makes me less likely to see doing the dishes as a chore?
The stronger my personal practices – meditation, walking, gratitude, rest, and contemplation – the greater my ability to transform a mundane to task into something meaningful and enjoyable.
Personal practices have a problem of lag.
Circumstances of life – travel, business, or other interruptions – get in the way. Maybe we lose the trigger that reminds us to practice. Perhaps we decide to put it on hold for a moment – just until things settle down again. Or we may simply forget. For whatever reason, the habit slips, and we stop practicing.
But the effects of not practicing don’t become visible right away. The deterioration is a slow process. Days, months, and even years may go by.
And then, bam, we get locked out of our apartment – or face some other challenging situation – and everything falls apart.
What if we had a measure, something that could act as an early indicator, something that could call us to attention and remind us that we need to go back to our practice?
For me, that indicator is doing the dishes. It’s a regular enough to serve as a good reminder. It’s a time where I’m usually alone with my thoughts – offering time for contemplation. And most importantly, how I approach the task is reflective of my overall state.
That awareness is a gift. It gives a chance to adjust – to return to practice.
What about you? What’s a task or activity that can serve as a measure of how you’re doing? Let us know in the comments below.
Dishes still aren’t my favorite activity. But if they keep me connected to my practice, just maybe, I’ll be more likely to enjoy them.