We have a dishwasher in our house that rarely gets used now. It used to run four or five times a week, full of cups, plates, and spoons. I rarely use it anymore because I’ve found a little secret of life in washing the dishes by hand.
You see, washing the dishes by hand takes time. I can’t multitask while doing it and no one wants to talk to me while I’m doing it, they’re mostly afraid I’ll assign them a cleanup task as well. Washing the dishes is my meditation.
Life can be really fast. I’m writing this in a public library an hour from my house. It’s a convenient stop between my morning and afternoon appointments. After work I’ll rush home, take our dogs out, then spend the evening at gymnastics with my daughters. Many days are like this and finding a moment to slow down and think is like looking for the last Easter egg after the kids have been through the yard. But, washing the dishes automatically forces me to slow down, and clear my mind. Here’s what I meditate about while washing the dishes.
I think about the people I’ve fed.
It’s really an honor to feed people. If you think about the things that we all need each day, food is nearly at the top of the list and to be trusted and appreciated by people for feeding them means a lot. My daughters and wife don’t worry about food because I’m able to do this for them. When we have large family gatherings it feels good to serve people.
I think about my family history.
I like to think about my immigrant Grandmother when I’m washing the dishes. Her family didn’t have much – my Grandfather picked dandelions on Sundays for tea and soup – but they did have the chance to feed good people good food. I think that I’m not the first in my family to wash dishes after a meal and in doing so I’m connected to them. I think about their hard times and hard won successes. I think about living in the Great Depression and how grand life seems now. I think about all the happy memories people have shared over food.
I take a moment not to think.
Sometimes I take a moment not to think. There is near constant noise in my life. Between the Frozen soundtrack, great podcasts, and conversation, my quiet moments are limited to writing, reading, and sleeping. Washing the dishes is sometimes another quiet moment to let my mind settle and collect itself for an evening push, to summarize something I’m writing, or let other thoughts simmer together.
I let my mind turn over problems.
During these quiet breaks it seems like a background program kicks in and starts to solve problems. Like my brain is a set of hands and any issue that’s facing me is a rubik’s cub. My brain will turn it over, twist things around, and start to see patterns and sequences I missed. It’s like a wiser version of me who cleans up the cluttered mess I may have left my brain in.
I start to order the evening and next day.
Do the kids need a bath? Have they done their homework? Who needs a bag for tomorrow? I try to think about these types of questions and begin to arrange what needs done. After having our school morning routines transformed by better planning the night before, I try to do that for all parts of our lives.
I reflect on what went well so far.
Shane Parish shared on his wonderful blog, Farnam Street, about keeping a decision journal. I’ve been doing a lighter version of this, a daily reflection on three things that went well. Some days this is as simple as having dinner premade. Other times it’s being patient with my kids. Thinking about what went well puts me in a good mood and has helped me start to identify the patterns of what my best moments look like.
Cleaning the dishes helps clean my mind.