Washing-Up Buddha, Revisited

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Way back in February of 2008, I wrote Washing-Up Buddha, my first Weekend Meditation for The Kitchn. It’s been years since I’ve revisited that post, so I took another look this morning just to see what I was up to back then. I had long forgotten what I wrote and I was a little worried. Would I find that I feel differently than I did then? Did I say something I wished I hadn’t? Have I changed a lot or maybe not enough?

In the Zen vernacular, when you wash the dishes, the dishes also wash you. In other words, when you completely give over to the task at hand, something is unwound, revealed, opened up. It’s not about making everything perfect and scrubbed clean. It’s more like allowing something a little more wild and mysterious and unknown to come forward. Everyday life holds just as much possibility for this as any ashram or meditation hall, it just takes a willingness to engage the moment without any ideas around how it should be.

Of course there have been several changes in my washing up life since 2008. Some are quite mundane, like the new plates and glasses purchased to replace the inevitable breakage and my latest favorite Mrs. Meyer’s dish soap scent (Radish!). And of course some changes are quite significant. The view above the sink has changed (several times), my body has changed, my understanding of who I am and what I am doing with my life is quite different.

But for the most part, doing the dishes and my love of doing the dishes has stayed pretty constant. Back in 2008 I wrote: “It’s an interesting experiment to occasionally challenge our assumptions about what is a pleasurable activity and what is pure drudgery.” And I still find this to be true today. Whether it’s the dishes or sorting receipts or waiting for the bus, I find it’s important to notice when I’m adding a layer of impatience (or boredom or frustration) on to a situation when it really doesn’t have to be there.

There have been deeper discoveries as well. The time spent at the sink doing a so-called mindless task is an excellent opportunity to check in and be with myself in a way that very little else in my life allows. (Smart phones and soapy hands do not mix!) In this age of unprecedented convenience and distraction, it really is a significant event to be alone with my thoughts, alone with the parts of myself that come forward when there’s nothing to distract.

Change, change and more change! But one significant thing has remained constant: the row of tiny Buddhas that I line up along the sink to encourage and remind me that all activity has the potential to be awakened activity. They encourage me to expand inward and outward, to dive deep and to open wide, to become intimate with the ten thousand things rising and falling with each breath, with each moment. They remind me that the small, everyday tasks we engage in are not wasted time and that each moment is part of the precious few moments we have to be alive. That all this is possible … and clean dishes, too!

(Image: Dana Velden)