Mindfulness lives in the sink

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The antibiotics didn’t work, so next I’m going to try doing the dishes.

The illness I referred to in my last post two weeks ago — the one that I said has been impeding my consciousness, shrinking my world down to its most selfish and short-sighted concerns — is still going strong even after taking the whole course of pills prescribed by the doctor. It’s been almost a month altogether.

If it doesn’t get better in a few days I will consult modern medicine again, but in the mean time I’m going to start treating the symptoms in my own way. The coughing and fatigue are annoying, but by far the worst effect of this bout of sickness is that I’ve become a lot more reactive and stressed than normal, which I described in the last article as being stuck in the “lower latitudes” of the overall human spectrum of consciousness.

This lowered consciousness causes all kinds of secondary side-effects. I’m less patient about cleaning up properly, which leads to house-clutter, which in turn creates more mental clutter. I haven’t been especially pleasant to be around, which leads to a correspondingly ill social life, and a growing feeling of missing out. The mental fog makes writing a lot more difficult, and being more reactive means I’m quicker to throw out ideas before I give them a chance to develop. Together, these side-effects create an exaggerated sense that my life and all its little duties are beyond my current capacity to meet.

I normally derive a lot of my sense of stability and peace from the habit of mindfulness — the way in which I walk across parking lots and make tea — and since I’ve been sick it has not been very appealing. I tend to want all the normal moments to be over, or to not happen at all.

A month is a long time to be in such an impaired state and I’m alarmed at how far I’ve fallen in that respect. It’s normally very easy for me to just let my attention settle on an ordinary moment, and find that it reflects some peace or beauty back to me. But right now it only takes a few seconds before something annoys me: the pain in my chest, or the weird clamminess I have, or how it is almost mid-April and still freezing.

If my compromised physical state has created a compromised mental state, then I suppose that treating my current mental state is only going to improve my physical state. It certainly can’t hurt. I need a single, regular place to apply deliberate mindfulness every day.

Signs have been pointing to my sink. My mother’s dishwasher broke months ago, and she never bothered to fix it, because doing them by hand was almost as easy and nothing about it can break down.

A friend of mine (let’s call her “Lily”) positively loves washing dishes by hand. She finds it so gratifying that she feels cheated when houseguests try to help by doing some themselves.

A few weeks ago, as I was turning on the dishwasher before we left my place, she said something like, “Dishwashers are what’s wrong with the world.” Something about that sounded right. I asked her to explain.

“Life is composed of primarily mundane moments,” she says. “If we don’t learn to love these moments, we live a life of frustration and avoidance, always seeking ways to escape the mundane. Washing the dishes with patience and attention is a perfect opportunity to develop a love affair with simply existing. You might say it is the perfect mindfulness practice. To me, the dishwasher is the embodiment of our insatiable need, as a culture, to keep on running, running, running, trying to find something that was inside of us all along.”

We used to have to spend a lot more time and attention maintaining our basic possessions. Dishes had to be washed by hand, stoves had to be stoked, clothes had to be mended, and meals had to be prepared from scratch.

Little was automated or outsourced. All of these routine labors demanded our time, and also our presence and attention. It was normal to have to zoom in and slow down for much of our waking day. We had no choice but to respect that certain daily tasks could not be done without a willing, real-time investment of attention.

My sickness led me to being reactive and mindless and so I’m going to reclaim a little bit of it back by un-automating one thing. I’m not going to use my dishwasher for a month. I’ll do all dishes by hand. Dishes have to be done, and so every day I’ll need to bring my immediate attention to bear on the soapy water and white plates.

This is experiment no. 15. It will last for a month, starting today, then I’ll decide whether to bother with the dishwasher again.

I want to see whether this commitment leads to my patience and mindfulness returning in other areas.

I’ll report occasionally on my findings on the experiment log. As always, you are welcome to join me, and you can let me know how it’s going in the comments section.

“It helps to cultivate patience,” says Lily, “and the enjoyment of a task which we usually discard as “not worth it”, too boring, too mundane, blase. It gives us the chance to take a little peek into the tiny but enormous world of simply noticing what is around you, and engaging fully with it. If you are someone who is naturally averse to washing dishes, you abhor it, you avoid it at all costs, you grudgingly go through it as quickly as possible… Well then, this is the perfect opportunity to engage fully with those feelings, and to gently scrub them away, until what you are left with is the realization that life is an amazing, and beautiful, and precious gift, no matter what kind of activity you are engaged in. You are surrounded by great textures, and images, and formations of light, and sounds, and smells, and everything, all the time.”

***

Photo by R/DV/RS


Cristina López Mayher April 10, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Hope you are feeling better. I just wanted to suggest to be mindful as well of all the water that is running down your sink. Water is a scarce resource and many people dont have access to it. So.. while you get that peace of mind and recover (which I really hope you do), try to do it with as little water as possible, acknowledging all those moments when you can be washing while the water is not running. A good act for the planet.
Get better!

Theo April 10, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Whilst I agree with the high importance of mindfulness, I believe there can be too much.

Forcing a situation to become interesting by simply becoming aware of our surroundings may do good the first few times in that particular situation, but if you’re trying to appreciate the same thing over and over then it does more bad than good.

The reason we as humans are so good is because we can block things out. We can become used to the wonderful and amazing and we forget to appreciate it. By becoming used to it, we utilize things to their full potential. A dishwasher can save what, 10 minutes of work? 10 minutes a day which could be spent doing something else more productive, which could still invoke being mindful.

I’m not saying its bad to be mindful, it’s not. But there is a point when it becomes ok to ignore things that may seem amazing when broken down into their origins, as overdoing this would hinder what you set out to achieve in the first place.

Anyway these are my barely coherent thoughts, I’m terrible at writing so well done if you made it this far.

P.S. This site is a really great collection of thoughts and ideas, David. Great stuff!

Keone April 10, 2013 at 11:32 pm

I have been a longtime proponent of the “clean as you go” method, which brings a further level of mindfulness by reinforcing the habit of attending to small messes so they do not pile up and become big ones that seem overwhelming and that I procrastinate doing.

There is a sign my wife hung up with a smiling 50’s housewife that says “A clean house is a sign of a wasted life.” Her mentality is to do things when they reach a crictical mass state or when she has the motivation and free time to attend to doing chores around the house.

Your personal level of germophobia and anal retentiveness plays a huge part in whether or not this is acceptable, but when you factor the time spent scrubbing, polishing, dusting, sweeping, moping, cleaning, etc. over the course of a lifetime it amounts to a staggering sum.

Consider an hour a day graphed over the course of 30 years amounts to roughly a year and a half spent cleaning that you will never get back, and that is a conservative estimate since most of us spend far more than that over a longer period. Given that most of us are busy and have limited amounts of energy to devote to said tasks it is all about utilizing the tools at our disposal and becoming efficient at cleaning so it does not become a burden in our lives. I have noticed that doing dishes become a huge issue in every living situation I’ve been in and is ultimately a deal breaker in many cases. The cleaning of other people’s messes is a huge source of contention and is bad karma.

Therefore I have no qualms about using the dishwasher, although I make sure to maximize it to its full capacity when I do. The other reason I do it is because hand washing does not sterilize dishes and silverware, which is important to consider. Before I had a dishwasher I would use a bucket with cold water and a couple drops of bleach as a rise after washing dishes.

Mark April 11, 2013 at 12:01 pm

You’re probably too young to know about Zap comix but this post reminded me of one of R. Crumb’s cartoons, and now he has redone it in color and it’s for sale:
http://plasticandplush.com/2011/11/r-crumbs-mr-natural-does-the-dishes.html

Thanks for this, doing the dishes is one of my favorite meditations.

Kristina April 11, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Hi David,

You may already know this, but your lungs and adrenal glands (stress moderators) are linked. If your lungs are taxed, your adrenals may be as well, hence you feel less able to manage stress. I got influenza this past winter, and while I was sick noticed a significant decline in my ability to deal with stress. If you haven’t already, talk to a naturopath, or look into taking adrenal adaptagens (sp?). That, and rest! Hope you feel better soon.

kristina

onebreath April 12, 2013 at 11:32 am

This came at a perfect time for me – mindfulness is such a powerful way to approach life, and yet it is also challenging to maintain it in the waves that come in life. I find having both too much and too little to do cause me to step out of any experience and avoid being present. Of course, the trick is to realize there is never too much or too little, there is just this moment.

At this point, my mind always starts to spin a little. Thanks for sharing your honest view of life on this blog…

Naomi Frances April 12, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Hey David,
hope you’re better soon, apparently spring is around the corner (in England at any rate). I know what you mean about the way that the cleaning just doesn’t get done if you’re ill. I get migraines, and in their aftermath there is chaos! And I loathe washing up, can’t stand to do it, I resent it, I hate it! So, I’m going to try the mindfulness thing with it, make it a choice, choose to see the craft in doing a job well, and thoroughly…..

Bradley Herman April 12, 2013 at 4:57 pm

I agree wholly… Just wash whatever you’re using right when you’re done with it. Takes literally a few seconds and you always have everything clean. I make sure to wash whatever I use almost immediately, even if I’m in the middle of preparing a big meal.

Kelkel April 12, 2013 at 8:49 pm

I abhor washing dishes. I have reasons. A week or so ago, I had a bit of an epiphany while washing out my coffee cup. This is the vessel that delivers my coffee. My coffee makes me happy and puts a smile on my face in the morning. Washing this cup will help bring me future happiness. I still am not a huge fan, I won’t lie, but I have gained a new appreciation for it. Thanks for reinforcing it. :)

Cindy April 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I hate doing dishes…I even hate putting them in a dishwasher, although I have only lived in one place that was equipped with one. I just don’t like standing in one place for that long. It doesn’t surprise me that one of your posts will likely be the remedy to one of only a few annoyances I have left in my world. Thank you for shining the light of an opposite perspective for me to ponder going forward. I had never considered that in certain circumstances, standing in one place can actually move you.

Tom Southern April 13, 2013 at 3:32 pm

David, it’s concerning that you’re writing blog posts while under the influence of pneumonia. Shouldn’t you be tucked up in bed with love and comfort by your side? You’re amazing. Look after yourself.

Garrett April 14, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I’ll go ahead and repeat what some others have already said, and that is that dishwashers are more efficient in a number of really important ways.

L. A. Howard April 14, 2013 at 4:53 pm

The more of your blog I read, the more I like your point of view. I’m sorry you’ve felt sick for so long, though. That really sucks. :(

Though I like your honesty, I have to disagree with you on the dishwasher thing. I use it because I can’t stand very long at the sink without getting major pains in my backside. For reasons wholly out of my control, my back has had far too much strain put on it for that activity to be fully enjoyable to me. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is in a lot of pain,” as the saying goes.

Mostly, I think dishwashers were marketed to busy moms in the 1950s and 1960s to make life just a little less hectic. While it may not mean much for a childless person (including myself, though I’m married), I can DEFINITELY see how it would be something of a necessity with a couple of young ones running all over creation!

All that to say this: It’s great to get satisfaction out of the simple things, and I completely agree that it’s a lost art! But on the other hand, I can also see how dishwashers in particular can reduce stress rather than add to depression. :)

Hope you feel better soon!

L. A. Howard April 14, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Also, I hate chores with the fire of a thousand suns, so anything I can do to get through them as quickly as possible is a plus for me. :) (I do -not- find enjoyment in laundry, dishes, etc.)

Martin April 17, 2013 at 10:49 am

Re: the illness; sounds like pneumonia – could be candidiasis, which masks as many other infirmities.

Re: doing the dishes; great meditation opportunity, equal to ‘chop wood, carry water’.

Dahlia Smith April 21, 2013 at 4:43 pm

It may take you a little longer than a month to get the full benefit of washing dishes by hand, at least it did for me. Just being in the kitchen is now a “zen” experience for me starting with my decision to do the dishes by hand. It took me quite a while (maybe 6 months) to get to the point of feeling genuine pleasure in the process and realizing the many benefits of it. Now all kitchen chores are a practice in mindfulness for me. And I look for opportunites to enjoy this practice in other areas of my life, including walking through parking lots.

When I was a child my dad often asked me and my siblings what to get Mom for Christmas. We always chimed Get Her a Dishwasher. His answer was the same everytime… “She already has six” and he held out his arms as if he were about to embrace all of us at once. Years later I mentioned to my mother my father’s possible lack of consideration for her. She laughed and said that he knew she would not have one in the house. It was her “one on one” time, in the kitchen with each of the childen; her way of keeping up with things, a daily check up and check in. I never forgot that lesson…

Amelia April 24, 2013 at 10:37 am

I moved into a place in October that did not have a dishwasher. This was the first time in many years I had lived somewhere without one. I had a new roommate and we did not have the same kitchen standards at all. Being non-confrontational, I just let her have the kitchen. I wasn’t doing any real cooking there anyway because of my schedule. I would clean it maybe once a week (while she was gone and I would have the house to myself for several days) because I couldn’t stand it anymore, she’d wreck it on her first day home and slowly add to the mess until she’d leave again…. On the first of March, I moved into a brand new house with my long term boyfriend, also without a dishwasher. Since I moved in, I get an intense satisfaction from not only hand washing the dishes but from all the little aspects of taking care of a house. All of these little moments are when I get to take my mental breaks. I love my job, but being there requires mental energy for a solid 8+ hours a day, not counting driving time. My relationship is amazing and more fulfilling than I ever imagined I would find, but it is a mental challenge for both of us. That’s part of what makes it so awesome, but the ability to take a bit of a break is always appreciated. I can take care of these simple tasks, completely zone out while I am doing them for the most part, and when I’m all done there is immediate gratification. I can cook anything I want in my kitchen at any time because it is all ready to go. Every part of my house is available for maximum comfort at any time. This house came with a well taken care of yard with all these charming garden spaces and flower beds. I don’t know anything about gardening, but I figure I can get out there and dig around in the dirt, throw out some seeds and see what grows.

sadie April 28, 2013 at 9:16 pm

i was diagnosed with fybromyalgia 8 years ago, and when im having a bad time with it i tend to get almost to breaking point then suffer persistant coughs or earache…… these symptoms hurt like hell but also i believe they happen to expell bad energy in my physical and mental self. please read up on fibromyalgia and get help NOW if u think u have it. i was treated for my physical symptoms in various ways for years…. nothing helped me though, i got worse & worse. eventually i sought mental health treatment, thats where im at now. with hindsight i am certain that both my head and my pain etc needed treating at once, i also believe fibro mental issues(what u described is “fibro fog”) should be treated first and taken very seriousely…… i think its to late for me now to ever regain a confident ME, but maybe i can help u, so i say please get advice & help asap. i came across what u have written totally by accident…….. or did i?
good luck….. sadie xx

myriam May 1, 2013 at 5:33 am

I suffered similar symptoms… I went to a holstic doctor …she made me take some allergy test… Delayed reactions testa and I turned out to be allergic to many of the foods I was eating which was not caught by the regular test given by my allergist…. Find out if all of a sudden you became allergic to some of the food you are consuming… Get better….

Helen May 1, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Have you ever come across Fly Lady. http://www.flylady.net
Her whole blog is based on starting with shining your sink, to bring order to your life.

Your very first BabyStep is to go shine your sink. Don’t listen to those voices that tell you that it not going to help your messy house. This is exactly where I started, and this little habit has changed my life! Take this BabyStep in faith and go do it. Here are the directions for shining your kitchen sink.
Day 1 – Shine Your Sink

After you do this, you will keep it shiny by drying it out after each time you use it and making sure when you go to bed that it is shining so it will make you smile in the morning. This is how I get to hug you each day! That shiny sink is a reflection of the love that you have for yourself.

Our FlyLady system is all about establishing little habits that string together into simple routines to help your day run on automatic pilot. You can do this!

Not sure how to shine your sink? Read FlyLady’s FLYing Lesson on how to shine your sink.

Mrs. M May 21, 2013 at 9:09 pm

I am a Fly baby. I found Flylady when they were still new and I started to take the baby steps. My son was in elementary and my daughter in preschool. Dear Son graduates in two days and Dear Daughter just entered the National Honor Society. (toot horn now)
I also thought of the Flylady program while reading David’s article.
I return to Raptitude every few weeks to read David’s new articles. I’ve really enjoy his writing.

Ellen May 18, 2013 at 1:34 am

Gross . Have you ever smelled a dishwasher when it’s mid- cycle ? Especially after a fry up ? Ewwwwww.

H. Mines October 23, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Ah. Washing dishes.
Existing.
So many people forget how to simply exist. No one ever seems to understand why I take pleasure in things like doing the dishes or sewing things by hand. I am currently in college, a place run rampant with young people searching for gratification and meaning, dazed with new ideas, loud ideas, and neon signs. Quite honestly, all I really ever feel like doing is taking long walks (or even spend a few days) in the forest with my notebook. Learning to balance this incessant desire to simply exist in the forest (which began immediately after a 12 day backpacking adventure in the Adirondacks) with college and work has been… interesting, but I am sure I’ll eventually find balance (the people I love are usually what call me back, and I am okay with that).
Although I am ten years younger than you, I have a challenge for you: go and find a tree. Sit in it for at least 30 minutes. If you can’t bring yourself to climb it, sit under it, look up into its branches from different angles, etc. Document your findings. Try to figure out what it is like to be a tree. There is something about trees that remind me of simply existing and enjoying it. It might sound crazy, but still… try it.

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